Ron DeSantis Has a Very Un-American Vision For America

This post first appeared on Common Dreams on May 25, 2023.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) wants to be the 47th president of the United States. He’s running on his record as governor, which an overwhelming majority of Americans should find alarming. Armed with a Republican legislature that rubber stamps his every whim, DeSantis’s most celebrated accomplishments defied the will of most Americans:

  • He spearheaded a ban on abortions for women who are more than six weeks pregnant, even though many women don’t know by then that they’re pregnant and most Americans oppose such a draconian restriction.
  • Only days after the mass shooting in Nashville, he signed legislation allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. The vast majority of Americans want more gun restrictions, not fewer.
  • He defunded diversity, equality, and inclusion programs at all state universities, ignoring the contrary desires of most students.
  • His crusade against the LGBTQ community has compromised the freedom of an oppressed minority and morphed into a blood feud with Mickey Mouse. Popular opinion is running against him on those issues as well.

And most recently, a vivid illustration of his dangerous view of the First Amendment emerged – once again defying the wishes of most Americans.

DeSantis: Leading the Way to Illiteracy

On March 25, 2022, DeSantis signed the “K-12” bill – one of three state laws aimed, at least in part, at reading or instructional materials in schools. It’s an integral element of his ongoing attack on public education.

The law bans the use of any instructional materials in classrooms, in school libraries, or on school reading lists that are “not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used.”

A key provision allows any parent or resident to lodge a complaint for anything that violates the law’s amorphous standard. So far, among the books removed from circulation in one of Florida’s school districts are Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Now another victim is focusing attention on DeSantis’s unpopular crusade.

DeSantis: Pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator

At President Joseph Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman delivered The Hill We Climb – a 700-word poem – to great acclaim. Then she published it as a book, but a parental complaint under DeSantis’s new K-12 law led a Miami-Dade county school committee to limit student access to it.

The parent was Daily Salinas, who has attended Proud Boys rallies and posted anti-Semitic tropes on social media (deleted after the Miami Herald revealed her identity on May 22 and the group Miami Against Fascism highlighted them in an expose’ on Twitter the next day).

Salinas completed the complaint form in her own hand, and the form itself merits scrutiny as a marvel of ignorance and illiteracy:



WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO ABOUT THIS MEDIA: Box checked: Remove the challenged material from the total environment

  1. TO WHAT DO YOU OBJECT (please be specific, cite pages or sections): [Left blank]
  2. WHY DO YOU OBJECT TO THIS MATERIAL? “Is not educational and have [sic] indirectly hate messages – page 12-13”
  7. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE FUNCTION OF THIS MATERIAL? “Cause confusion and indoctrinate students”

That’s the sum total of what it took to start the DeSantis process that culminated in removing Gorman’s acclaimed book from a public elementary school library. To summarize:

  • Salinas got the author’s name wrong.
  • She said that she didn’t need any awareness of the glowing professional reviews that Gorman’s poem received, but claimed that it was “not for schools.”
  • She said she had reviewed “ALL THE MATERIAL,” but concluded that it was not educational, has “hate messages,” and can cause “confusion and indoctrinate students,” referring only to these lines (page 12-13):

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,

And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’

Isn’t always justice.

“And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow, we do it.

Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

Salinas also complained about four other books. Only one – Countries in the News: Cuba – remained available for all students in the school. The others, including The Hill We Climb and The ABC’s of Black History (which was written for ages five and up), are now kept in the middle school section of the media center where elementary school students won’t see them.

Salinas, along with one of the many school committees that now live in fear of a governor known for political retaliation, accomplished all of that destruction in just a week.

How did she miss Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech?

Gorman said that she wrote the poem “so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems.” She added, “A school book ban is any action taken against a book that leaves access to a book restricted or diminished.”

DeSantis: Conning the Public

DeSantis asserts that criticisms of his assault on the First Amendment are a “book ban’ hoax. “Hoax” has a familiar ring. I wonder where he heard it.

“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is important because it reveals that some are attempting to use our schools for indoctrination,” he said, claiming that “inappropriate materials have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries….”


As a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, DeSantis knows that he’s running a con. He’s exploiting and amplifying culture war issues to win Trump’s MAGA crowd. To borrow Amanda Gorman’s phrase, DeSantis has put Florida in another “historical moment.” Now he wants the entire country to join him there.

But Gorman’s poem is a message of hope, as its concluding lines demonstrate: 

“The new dawn blooms as we free it,

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it,

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Watch the video of Gorman delivering her message on Inauguration Day. Then imagine a country where just one person of marginal literacy can fill out a form that will prevent your child from reading it.

That’s only one scene in Ron DeSantis’s vision for America.

The Durham Report: New Addition to Trump’s Library of Lies

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on May 19, 2023.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wants special counsel John Durham to testify in his “weaponization” hearings. Created as part of a dark deal that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made with far-right Republican extremists to secure his speakership, Jordan’s new subcommittee claims to be investigating “the politicization of the FBI and the Department of Justice” against Republicans.

So far, Jordan’s subcommittee has found nothing. Durham didn’t find anything either, but he spun his report with useful GOP soundbites that are sufficient to achieve Republican objectives: 

Muddy the scene. Arouse the mob. And accuse adversaries of your own nefarious deeds. Then exploit the resulting confusion and chaos.

In fact, John Durham is now a case study in the GOP’s weaponization of the Justice Department.

Trump Mastered “Weaponization”

Any genuine “weaponization” probe would have started with former President Donald Trump and his attorney general, William Barr.

  • From the beginning of his presidency, Trump urged then-FBI director James Comey to end the investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. Comey refused and Trump fired him.
  • Trump then urged his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to kill the investigation. Instead, Sessions recused himself. Trump was incensed and eventually Sessions lost his job too. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Trump fumed, referring to his notorious personal lawyer and fixer. In the 1950’s, Cohn had been Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-WI) hatchet man during the “Red Scare” investigation into communist activity – one of the darkest chapters in American political history.
  • After firing Sessions, Trump turned to the manifestly unqualified Matthew Whitaker, who had publicly criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
  • Amid mounting bipartisan criticism of Whitaker, Trump turned to Barr. Six months earlier, Barr had sent Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – Mueller’s boss – an unsolicited memo arguing that Mueller should shut down his obstruction of justice probe.

Trump had found his Roy Cohn.

“Weaponization” Rises to a New Level

In March 2019, Barr had been on the job for only two months when Mueller gave him – but not the public – his 448-page report. It proved that:

  • Russia wanted Trump to win the 2016 election;
  • Trump embraced Russia’s assistance; and
  • Trump obstructed the subsequent investigation into his campaign ties to Russia.

Mueller secured convictions against Trump’s top campaign advisers, and he expressly refused to exonerate Trump personally. But notwithstanding powerful evidence proving Trump’s obstruction, Mueller believed that he could not indict a sitting president.

Immediately, Barr issued a deceptive “summary” of Mueller’s report that kneecapped the actual findings. Relying on Barr’s summary, Trump then tweeted one of the more than 30,000 lies spewed during his presidency:

“No Collusion. No Obstruction. Complete and Total EXONERATION!”

Barr’s summary drew an immediate, albeit private, rebuke from Mueller himself because it created “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” Barr wasn’t confused. He knew exactly what he was doing. And no one could challenge Trump’s or Barr’s lies because Barr didn’t release Mueller’s report to the public for another three weeks.

A year later, a federal judge blasted Barr’s pre-release “distortions” and “lack of candor.” The court questioned “whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report — a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds” with it. Barr made “a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings… to the contrary.”

After-the-fact judicial condemnation didn’t matter to Barr. He had weaponized Trump’s false mantra that the FBI’s Russia investigation had been a “hoax” and that Mueller had “exonerated” him.

Durham Became Barr’s Henchman

Barr didn’t stop at confusing the public about Mueller’s damning conclusions. He appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to search for evidence supporting Trump’s key talking point: The FBI was out to get him and had no basis for starting the Russia investigation.

Barr took a personal interest in the assignment. In the fall of 2019, he and Durham traveled to Italy and asked officials for evidence that might discredit the Justice Department’s Trump-Russia investigation. Italian officials had nothing to help them, but they did offer a tip: Trump was engaged in suspicious financial activity.

Uh-oh. The Italian tip required a criminal investigation. But rather than assign the matter to another prosecutor, Barr added it to Durham’s plate. Notably, Durham’s final report doesn’t mention the tip or what became of it.

Meanwhile, Durham’s search for FBI abuses or institutional animus toward Trump reached a dead end. So he changed course and tried to blame the Clinton campaign for promoting the suspicious Russia links surrounding Trump.

Durham’s revised mission failed too. His final report acknowledges that, after Wikileaks published hacked Democratic emails, the FBI opened its investigation based on information from an Australian diplomat. The diplomat said that a Trump campaign aide told him that Russia had damaging material on Clinton. At that point, even Durham admits, there was “no question that the FBI had an affirmative obligation to closely examine” the Trump-Russia connection.

But Durham believes that the FBI should have started with a “preliminary investigation” before moving to a “full investigation.” That’s not exactly the blockbuster that Trump and his allies had wanted him to find.

Durham Leaves a Legacy of Professional Disgrace

Durham’s final report is an effort to justify the time (four years) and money (more than $6.5 million) wasted on his probe.

  • About half of Durham’s report discusses problems with the infamous Steele dossier. But contrary to his suggestion, the dossier didn’t “trigger” the Trump-Russia investigation. The Australian diplomat’s tip did. The dossier didn’t reach the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigators until the probe had already been underway for six weeks.
  • Durham admits that comparing the FBI’s investigation of Trump with those of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation is not an “apples-to-apples” task. But then he does it anyway.
  • Venturing far beyond the scope of his assignment, knowledge, training or experience, Durham speculates that “confirmation bias” may have influenced the investigative process in a way that disfavored Trump.

Durham charged no high-level FBI or intelligence official with a crime. He has only three prosecutions to show for his pursuit of the Trump/Barr agenda.

  • The first was a negotiated plea deal involving a doctored email that Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz had flagged in his 2019 report on the FBI’s Russia probe. But the underlying offense had no impact on the key conclusion: The FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation was not politically motivated.
  • Durham’s other two cases involved allegedly false statements to the FBI. At trial, he lost both cases, but large sections of the final report rehash evidence and arguments that failed to persuade those juries.

Several attorneys on Durham’s team tried unsuccessfully to protect him from his misguided deference to Trump and Barr. His deputy, as well as a prosecutor, resigned in protest.

But as Durham lost trials and the respect of colleagues, he won a new friend:

“While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work,” the Times wrote. “They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together….”

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who drafted the special counsel regulations that should have governed Barr’s and Durham’s conduct, observed:

“The special counsel is supposed to be someone who cannot be reasonably accused of laundering an attorney general’s dirty work… Indeed, no one involved in developing these regulations thought that a prosecutor who has regular Scotch-sipping sessions with the attorney general would ever be remotely fit for the job.”

Durham’s report doesn’t undermine any of Mueller’s conclusions. Nor does it conflict with DOJ Inspector General Horowitz’s conclusion that Trump was not the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy against him.

Rehashing criticisms of certain investigative procedures that the Justice Department and FBI Director Christopher Wray corrected years ago, the report “does not recommend any wholesale changes in the guidelines and policies that the [Justice] Department and the FBI now have in place to ensure proper conduct and accountability in how counterintelligence activities are carried out.” The report’s only substantive recommendation is that the FBI create a new position to help ensure the integrity of politically sensitive investigations.

But none of these facts will prevent Durham’s report from becoming a worthy addition to Trump’s rhetorical library of lies. And when Durham appears before Jordan’s subcommittee, watch Republicans lift phrases from the report, ignore context, and weaponize it.

On second thought, don’t watch any of it.

The GOP Has a Very Anti-American Agenda

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on May 12, 2023.

If you vote for a Republican, you’re selecting someone who – once elected – is unlikely to support your views on the issues that matter to you most. Instead, here’s what you’re choosing:


The vast majority of Americans favor simple and effective gun control measures. They want:

  • universal background checks and “red flag” laws that would alert law enforcement to gun owners with serious mental health issues;
  • a national database for gun ownership;
  • laws requiring gun owners to store their weapons in a safe storage unit; and
  • the prohibition of semi-automatic rifles – weapons of war that killers have used in the seven deadliest mass shootings of the last decade.

But elected Republicans oppose all of those measures.

Women’s Rights

The vast majority of Americans want to preserve a woman’s right to control her own body.

But elected Republicans unite to enact legislation that outlaws abortion altogether – even for rape, incest, or the health of the mother – or that moves the period of any permissible abortion ever closer to the date of conception and before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

The Debt Ceiling

Americans want a functional government that doesn’t face a financial crisis every time Republicans decide to hold the nation hostage to their unpopular demands. When Donald Trump was president, neither party in Congress created a debt-limit crisis.

But with President Joe Biden in the White House, elected Republicans have:

  • abandoned all pretense of “fiscal responsibility” – a perennial GOP rhetorical talking point;
  • threatened to crash the U.S. economy into recession or worse, create chaos in global markets, increase the nation’s borrowing costs that will increase future federal deficits, and jeopardize America’s international financial credibility; and
  • united in opposing an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling – despite Congress’ bipartisan authorization of the expenditures that created the debt in the first place and the U.S. Constitution’s command that the “public debt of the United States, authorized by law, shall not be questioned.”

Cult of Trump

Most Americans want honest, courageous, and hard-working leaders with personal integrity.

But elected Republicans refuse to condemn their leading candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination, notwithstanding:

  • his adjudicated liability for sexual abuse and defamation;
  • his indictment on charges that he paid off a porn star in his effort to win the presidency in 2016;
  • criminal investigations involving his unlawful retention of highly classified documents and his obstruction of government efforts to retrieve those materials; 
  • and state and federal criminal investigations surrounding his attempt to subvert the 2020 election and obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. Although videos of the deadly assault on law enforcement personnel on January 6 are irrefutable, Trump has pledged to pardon the insurrectionists who have been imprisoned for serious felonies.


Most Americans want the United States to remain a democracy. Our forebears fought and died in wars to secure and defend it. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, congressional Republicans blamed Trump for the January 6 riot. They described it as a heinous and unprecedented attack on the U.S. government.

But now elected Republicans pretend that it never happened, calling the insurrectionists “tourists” engaged in “peaceful protest.” 

Voting Rights

Most Americans want to make voting easier. After all, it is the bedrock of any democracy. 

But elected Republicans pursue voter suppression with a vengeance – literally. Committed to the opposite of democracy, they enact legislation that makes casting a ballot more difficult for those who are likely to vote against them.

Government Priorities

Most Americans support higher taxes on the rich.

But elected Republicans oppose taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while urging reductions in government spending that target, among other vulnerable groups, veterans, Social Security recipients, Medicare beneficiaries, poor mothers, and infants.


Most Americans want the government to take seriously the existential threat of climate change.

But elected Republicans ignore or ridicule it, while promoting activities that contribute to the destruction of the planet.

Culture Wars

Most Americans despise the polarization that has infected the body politic.

But elected Republicans use culture wars – including the rejection of science – to promote illiteracy and ignorance across a range of issues, deepening the schisms among us. In addition to the topics listed above, here are two more examples: 

Your Vote Should Matter

Stated simply, if you vote for a Republican, you’re probably voting against your personal preferences for the nation.

You’re voting against democracy, which is supposed to honor voters’ desires. 

You’re voting for those who claim to care what you think, but use such rhetoric to seduce you.

You’re voting for people whose sole agenda is the acquisition and retention of power. Other than Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) desire to retain his slim, four-person GOP majority in the House of Representatives, there’s no reason for him or any true party leader to tolerate the continuing presence of Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who was a disgrace long before his recent federal indictment for fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and false statements.

Eventually, the actions of elected Republicans betray them – and most of their supporters. But until it’s personal and GOP voters actually feel the impact, they won’t care.

Because in America today, that’s what it means to be a Republican voter.

Jimmy Hoffa – Almost 50 Years Later

On July 30, 1975, the Teamsters’ former president, Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared. He remains one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th century.

In 1960, my father stumbled unwittingly into a power struggle with Hoffa. My dad escaped with his life, his wife and his kids, but little else.

He was one of the lucky ones.

My first book, Crossing Hoffa – A Teamster’s Story. was a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year” in 2007, and it continues to attract attention. You can listen to my latest interview about the story here.

Radio Parallax interview with Steven J. Harper

Democracy Lost: Dominion v. Fox

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on April 26, 2023.

Both parties to the litigation won.

Staple Street Capital, a New York-based private-equity firm, is in the business of maximizing the return on its clients’ investments. In 2018, it bought a 76 percent interest in Dominion Voting Systems for $38.3 million. Five years later, Fox’s $787.5 million payout represented a staggering gain.

Fox News makes money by telling its audience what it wants to hear, even if Fox knows they’re lies. The settlement preserves its lucrative business model.

Democracy lost.

Panic at the Top

In the runup to the election, Fox enjoyed historic ratings and revenues. But a momentous Election Night decision put everything at risk. A small sample of Fox’s internal communications tells the story – and the public probably hasn’t seen the most damning ones.

Nov. 3, 2020, 11:20 p.m.: Fox became the first network to announce that Joe Biden had won Arizona – a disastrous development for Donald Trump’s re-election prospects. The Trump campaign was livid. On behalf of Bill Sammon’s Decision Desk team, Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt went on live television, defending the call to skeptical on-air hosts Tucker Carlson and Bret Baier.

Fox soon began hemorrhaging viewers in the far-right audience it had cultivated for decades.

Nov. 11Raj Shah, Fox Corp.’s senior vice president and Trump’s former White House deputy press secretary, warned company leaders that “bold, clear and decisive action is needed for us to begin to regain the trust that we’re losing with our core audience.” Two days later, he wrote to Rupert Murdoch’s son, Lachlan, that “Fox News is facing a brand crisis” and “open revolt… precipitous decline in Fox’s favorability among our core audience… poses lasting damage to the Fox News brand unless effectively addressed soon.”

In another email, Shah told colleagues that the network’s brand was “under heavy fire from our customer base.” In yet another, he wrote, “We are not concerned with losing market share to CNN or MSNBC right now. Our concern is Newsmax and One America News Network ….”

Lying as a Corporate Strategy

Nov. 12: Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a Trump tweet that referred to Fox’s broadcasts. She said that there was no evidence of voter fraud from Dominion voting machines. In a text chain with Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson wrote, “Please get her fired. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Nov. 13: The “Brain Room” – Fox’s fact-checking and research division – concluded that claims about Dominion voting machines were “100% false. Dominion systems continue to reliably and accurately count ballots, and state and local election authorities, as well [as] fact-checkers, have publicly confirmed the integrity of the process.”

Fox on-air hosts ignored it.

Nov. 16: In a Zoom meeting, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said, “Listen, it’s one of the sad realities: If we hadn’t called Arizona those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger. The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”

Fox could not afford a similar misstep in the upcoming Georgia runoff for control of the U.S. Senate. Scott decided to push out Sammon and Stirewalt.

Elevating Lies and Eliminating Truth-Tellers

Nov. 18: In an email exchange with Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson complained about Trump attorney Sidney Powell, whose on-air election lies had pervaded Fox programs since November 8:

“Sidney Powell is lying by the way,” Carlson wrote. “I caught her. It’s insane.”

“Sidney is a complete nut,” Ingraham answered. “No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”

“Our viewers are good people and they believe it,” Carlson said, making clear that he did not.

But Fox hosts did continue working with Powell and Rudy, promoting repeatedly what the judge in the Dominion case later ruled were “CRYSTAL clear” lies.

November 19: Giuliani held his infamous “dripping hair dye” press conference. Internally, Rupert Murdoch called it “Really crazy stuff. And damaging.” And he told Suzanne Scott, “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear. Probably hurting us too.” Likewise, Shah texted that Giuliani sounded “SO F*CKING CRAZY.”

But when Fox News White House correspondent, Kristin Fisherfact-checked Giuliani on-air immediately following the conference, her boss complained:

“He expressed his great unhappiness with my live shot. He emphasized that higher-ups at Fox News were also unhappy with it. And he told me that I needed to do a better job of respect — this is a quote — ‘respecting our audience.’” Fisher thought she had respected the audience by telling it the truth.

Likewise, Shah recoiled at Fisher’s fact-checking: “This is the kinda shit that will kill us. We cover it wall to wall and then we burn that down with all the skepticism.”

Nov. 20: Rupert Murdoch emailed Suzanne Scott, “Maybe best to let Bill [Sammon] go right away and make acting appointment. Also the other guy… be a big message with Trump people.”

“We were going to do Stirewalt next,” Scott responded. 

Early December: “This has to stop now,” Scott wrote in an email to a network vice-president, referring to anchor Eric Shawn’s fact-checking of Trump’s bogus voter-fraud claim. “This is bad business and there clearly is a lack of understanding what is happening in these shows. The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”

Dec. 2: Bill Sammon wrote to Chris Stirewalt: “More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud — a month after the election. It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things. In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis — at least journalistically.”

Stirewalt responded: “What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff.”

January 2021: Sammon announced his retirement. Fox laid off Stirewalt in what it called a “post-election restructuring.”

Protecting Rupert Murdoch

Less than two weeks before trial, the judge in the case ruled that Dominion could force Rupert Murdoch to testify at trial. Dominion planned to call him as its second witness. His internal communications about Giuliani, as well as Sammon and Stirewalt, were devastating.

But there were more:

Jan. 12, 2021: In an email exchange with Fox board member and former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Murdoch said that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a “[w]ake up call for Hannity, who has been privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers!”

Jan. 20: Murdoch mused about the impact of Trump’s lying: “The more I think about McConnell’s remarks or complaint, the more I agree. Trump insisting on the election being stolen and convincing 25 percent of Americans was a huge disservice to the country. Pretty much a crime. Inevitable it blew up Jan. 6th.”

Jan. 21: Murdoch sent a message to Suzanne Scott: “Is it ‘unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned’? Maybe Sean [Hannity] and Laura [Ingraham] went too far… All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump … but what did he tell his viewers?”

Fox executives responded with 50 examples of the “high profile Fox voices” that had fed Trump’s Big Lie.

Fox’s Predicament Worsened

A week after Murdoch was ordered to testify at trial, Fox had a new problem. Its attorneys had repeatedly misrepresented his status. They had told the court that he was not an officer of Fox News when, in fact, he was its executive chairman. The judge said that he would sanction Fox News and launch an investigation into what other material it had failed to disclose.

Now Fox’s lawyers had skin in the game too.

What had Fox withheld? We’ll never know. But during Dominion’s opening statement to the jury, it planned to present additional internal Fox communications publicly for the first time.

Dominion’s Won Too

As discovery in Dominion’s defamation case against Fox proceeded, its claims became surprisingly strong, but significant obstacles to any recovery remained. Juries can produce unexpected results; damages are always a question mark; appeals can drag on for years. Declining a certain $787.5 million would have been like trading a winning Powerball ticket worth the sixth largest jackpot in history for a future one that might be worthless.

Democracy Lost

Dominion’s attorney suggested that the settlement benefited the public: “Trust matters. Lies have consequences… Today’s settlement of $787.5 million represents vindication and accountability.”

Then Fox issued a public statement that proved him wrong. It sounded like doublespeak from George Orwell’s 1984: “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.” 

The only lesson Fox learned is that when it knowingly pushes lies, their employees shouldn’t create an electronic trail proving it. The settlement is just another cost of doing business – less than 20 percent of Fox Corp.’s cash on hand and less than half of its net income for 2022. And it’s tax-deductible! Fox plans a massive increase in cable and satellite provider fees that will more than offset the payment.

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

Fox’s business model is antithetical to Jefferson’s vision. It makes billions by challenging the nation with an existential question:

Can democracy die from too many lies?

Children Cried, Racism Thrived, Democracy Died – 10 Terrible Days in Tennessee

This post first appeared on Common Dreams on April 10, 2023.

On March 27, the Covenant School killer in Nashville used two semi-automatic weapons and a handgun to end the lives of three nine-year-old students, the head of school, a substitute teacher, and a maintenance worker.

Republicans shrugged. They said there was no role for the federal government in protecting the nation’s children from gun violence. Then, walking hand in hand with the National Rifle Association, they resumed their successful efforts to loosen state gun restrictions across the country, including Tennessee.

Ten days later, a GOP supermajority in the Tennessee House of Representatives punished dissent, undermined democracy, and became a case study in institutional racism. But they transformed a petty grievance about legislative “decorum” into a major national news story. They energized gun control and civil rights advocates in the way that the Supreme Court’s poorly reasoned abortion decision galvanized the pro-choice movement.

Guns and Money

Since 1998, the NRA and its affiliates have spent more than $200 million on political activities, nearly all of it to support Republicans.

In Texas alone, the NRA has spent $5 million over the past five years as that state’s legislature expanded gun rights. At the June 2021 signing ceremony for the law that eliminated training and licensing requirements for carrying a handgun in public, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre sat alongside Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) as the only non-elected official at the table.

“Thank God, Texas is leading the way for the country,” LaPierre said.

Leading where? Every year since 2020, gun violence has been the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Recent episodes of mass school shootings include:

  • June 2022: Uvalde, TX: AR-15 assault weapon used to kill 19 kids and two teachers; 17 others injured.
  • November 2021: Oxford, MI: Semi-automatic handgun used to kill four kids; seven children and one teacher injured.
  • May 2018: Santa Fe, TX: Shotgun and handgun used to kill eight students and two substitute teachers; 10 others injured.
  • Feb 2018: Parkland, FL: AR-15 assault weapon used to kill 14 kids and three adult staff; 17 others injured.   
  • January 2018: Marshall County, KY: Semi-automatic pistol used to kill two kids; 18 other students injured. 

The list goes on and on. In 2023, there have already been 16 school shootings in grades K through 12.

But the carnage isn’t limited to kids or schools. Every year since 2020, there have been more than 600 mass shootings in the United States. In 2023, there have been more than 130 – so far. 

Democracy Thwarted

Mass shootings garner the most attention, but they are the tip of a deadly iceberg. America has five percent of the world’s population and 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. We have 120 guns for every 100 people – more per capita than any other nation. Compare that to Canada (34.7), Australia (30), and Norway (28.8).

So it’s not surprising that among developed nations, the U.S. also ranks first in gun homicides per capita (4.12 for every 100,000 people). Compare that to Canada (0.5), Australia (0.18), and Norway (0.07). So far in 2023 alone, guns have been involved in more than 400 children’s deaths and more than 1,100 kids’ injuries. 

An overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans wants solutions that would not compromise anyone’s Second Amendment rights:

  • 90 percent support universal background checks.
  • 75 percent support a national database for gun sales.
  • 67 percent favor a ban on assault-style weapons.
  • 84 percent favor “red flag” laws preventing firearms sales to dangerous individuals whom a mental health provider has reported to law enforcement.
  • 81 percent favor making private and gun show sales subject to background checks.
  • 77 percent favor requiring all gun owners to use a safe storage unit.

Assault weapons are especially deadly. During a span of only 14 minutes, the Covenant School shooter fired 152 rounds – a bullet every five-and-a half seconds. Two semi-automatic weapons held 30 rounds of ammunition each.

From 1994 to 2004, America had a federal ban on assault weapons, and it helped – a lot, according to some studies. A 2021 analysis found “overwhelming” evidence that the law reduced mass shootings and deaths. Experts agree that the key was banning sales of high-capacity magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds.

But the federal ban expired in 2014. Republicans and the NRA have led the fight against reinstating it.

The Republican “Three-step”

Only a handful of states have enacted significant gun restrictions, but even they remain at the mercy of neighboring states that often have very few. The problem cries out for a national response.

During a three-minute interview on the U.S. Capitol steps immediately following the Nashville shooting, Tennessee’s own Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) summarized the GOP’s three-step defending federal paralysis on the issue.

Step 1: Nothing works, so don’t try.

“We’re not gonna fix it,” he said.

Asked whether Congress could do anything about the problem, he continued, “Criminals are going to be criminals.”

When pressed on what Congress can do to protect the nation’s kids, Burchett replied: “I don’t see any real role that we can do other than mess things up.”

Step 2: More religion

“We need to change people’s hearts,” Burchett said. “As a Christian, if we talk about the church, and I’ve said this many times, I really think we really need a revival in this country.”

Step 3: I have mine; go get your own

Asked whether other steps might safeguard children like his own daughter, Burchett said, “Well, we homeschool her.”

That’s his most telling comment. Fend for yourself. Don’t expect a Republican-controlled government to do anything for you or your kids, unless you’re wealthy and want a tax cut.

“The Tennessee Three”

Days after the Covenant School tragedy, thousands of peaceful protesters, including school-age kids and their parents, gathered at the state capitol in Nashville. Exercising their First Amendment rights to speak, assemble, and petition their government, they urged gun restrictions.

Three Democratic state representatives – two young Black men and a white woman – joined them symbolically by walking to the well of the House floor and voicing support for their cause. But Tennessee’s Republican Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R) hadn’t given them permission to do so.

Sexton compared them to the January 6th rioters: “What they did… was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse, depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the Capitol.”

Then he sought the ultimate legislative punishment: expulsion. Not a reprimand. Not censure. Not stripping them of committee assignments. Expulsion – a rare penalty that the House had imposed on only three prior occasions in the last 150 years.

In 1866, it expelled six members after they tried to block the state’s ratification of the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to former slaves. In 1980, it voted 92-1 to oust a member after his bribery conviction. And in 2016 after months of investigation, it voted 70-2 to expel a lawmaker accused of repeated sexual misconduct.

On April 6, 2023, the expulsion proceedings against the “Tennessee Three” became vivid illustrations of authoritarianism and institutional racism.

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R) sponsored the expulsion resolution against Justin Pearson (D). It asserted that Pearson’s behavior “reflects adversely upon the integrity and dignity of the House….” But during the hearing on his resolution, Farmer himself did far greater damage to that legislative body.

“Just because you don’t get your way, you can’t come to the well, bring your friends and throw a temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn,” Farmer scolded as Pearson stood in the well of the House floor defending himself.

“Now you all heard that,” Pearson responded. “How many of you would want to be spoken to that way?”

Receiving no response, Pearson repeated his question. Again, silence followed.

The Republican supermajority then expelled Pearson, as it had the other Black representative, Justin Jones (D). It deprived 130,000 residents of the state’s largest cities – Nashville and Memphis – of representation. Only one Republican joined Democrats in opposing all three expulsions.

Gloria Johnson (D) retained her seat by a single vote because six additional Republicans supported her. Asked why she was the only survivor, Johnson, who is white, said, “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”

Republicans cherish the right to life, but only until the moment of birth. They value democracy, but only when it suits them. They defend dissent, but only when they are the dissenters.

And they give lip service to the quest for racial justice and equality. But their actions betray their words.

Deadly Disinformation – The Underreported Scandal at the New York Times

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on March 16, 2023.

Today’s assignment:

You write for the most influential newspaper in America. Your recent column about COVID relied on dubious sourcing, specifically, Person A, who agreed with your personal views on the issue.

Your opening “hook” for readers was Person A’s inaccurate and misleading statements. He characterized a medical review in which he participated (along with 11 others) as supporting your position, although the review itself stated that it didn’t.

Your column went viral. The medical community condemned Person A’s false characterization of the review and highlighted the review’s methodological limitations and failings that your column ignored.

Two weeks later, you doubled down on your position.

Shortly thereafter, the review’s editor-in-chief issued a statement that Person A and many commentators had misrepresented the review’s conclusions.

What do you do now?

What if you’re the newspaper’s editor?

Bret Stephens’ February 21 column on mask mandates created this scandal at the New York Times.

How It Began

When the next airborne pandemic strikes, the disinformation currently surrounding COVID will paralyze policymakers and the public. Both-sidesing critical mitigation measures such as masks – even when one side lacks serious factual support – has undermined science and created mass confusion.

Over the past three weeks, Stephens and the New York Times have added to that confusion.

The fact is that masks and mask mandates limited the spread of COVID. But Stephens claimed to have “unambiguous” proof from a recent Cochrane Library review that mandates didn’t work at all. A cursory reading of the Cochrane review abstract and authors’ summary revealed that it expressly – and repeatedly – declined to support Stephens’ position:

  • “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.”
  • “There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect.”
  • “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.”

Likewise before Stephens published his column, the medical community had warned that anti-maskers were misusing the Cochrane review to support their broader agenda.

Throwing caution – and facts – to the wind, Stephens turned to Tom Jefferson, one of the review’s 12 authors. Jefferson is a senior associate tutor in the department of continuing education at the University of Oxford. He has a history of being wrong about COVID.

As more than 50,000 Americans were dying during the month of April 2020 alone, Jefferson questioned whether the outbreak was really a pandemic or just a prolonged respiratory flu season. He continues to claim that there is no basis for saying that COVID spreads through airborne transmission, despite the fact that major public health agencies have long said otherwise. The “Declarations of interest” relating to the Cochrane mask review noted that Jefferson had voiced “an opinion on the topic of the review in articles for popular media…[and] was not involved in the editorial process for this review.”

Ignoring the red flags, Stephens opened his column by quoting Jefferson’s inaccurate and misleading statements, starting with: “‘There is just no evidence that they’ — masks — “‘make any difference. Full stop.’”

Then Stephens blasted CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for acknowledging the limitations in Cochrane’s review, accused her of turning the CDC into an “accomplice to the genuine enemies of reason and science,” and called for her resignation. He closed by saying that the review had vindicated those who fought mandates.

The Stephens/Jefferson misleading characterization of the Cochrane review provoked widespread condemnation from the medical community and others. Two days after Stephens’ column appeared, former CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote on Twitter:

“Community-wide masking is associated with 10-80% reductions in infections and deaths, with higher numbers associated with higher levels of mask wearing in high-risk areas.”

How It Proliferated

As anti-maskers weaponized Stephens’ column and it went viral, the New York Times failed to correct it:

  • The Times published four brief online letters to the editor accurately challenging Stephens’ false assertions and unsupportable conclusions.
  • The following Sunday’s print edition (February 26) boasted that Stephens’ column was one of “Last Week’s Top Trending Headlines” and noted that it “cited an analysis of Oxford studies by an Oxford epidemiologist, drew nearly 3,800 comments from readers, not all of them agreeing with him.”
  • In the February 27 installment of “The Conversation” – a weekly dialogue between Stephens and the Times’ Gail Collins – neither mentioned Stephens’ misleading column.
  • In Stephens’ next weekly column for the Times on February 28, he moved on to a new subject – Ukraine.

The Times March 6 episode of “The Conversation” finally raised the issue. Reaffirming his incorrect position, Stephens ignored the medical community’s criticism of the Cochrane review and his column, denied relying solely on the review (even though his column cited nothing else), and dragged his fellow Times mask-mandate critic, David Leonhardt, into the fray.

How It Unraveled

Four days later, on March 10, Times opinion columnist Zenyep Tufekci, a journalism professor at Columbia University, published yet another detailed critique of the Cochrane review: “Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work.” She didn’t name Stephens, but she detailed facts and evidence that demolished Jefferson’s misleading claims in his column.

Some of that evidence came from Cochrane Library’s editor-in-chief, Karla Soares-Weiser. She told Tufekci that Jefferson had seriously misinterpreted its finding on masks when he said that it proved that “there is just no evidence that they make any difference.”

“[T]hat statement is not an accurate representation of what the review found,” Soares-Weiser said.

Hours later, Soares-Weiser issued Cochrane’s statement repeating the cautionary caveats in the review itself, which “has been widely misinterpreted… Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review is not able to address the question of whether mask-wearing itself reduces people’s risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses.” (Italics in original)

Cochrane’s statement also called out the purveyors of disinformation: “Many commentators have claimed that a recently-updated Cochrane Review shows that ‘masks don’t work’, which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation.” (Italics in original)

How the Times Made It Worse

The Tufekci article suggested that the Times had come down on the side of fact-based science demonstrating that masks and mandates had been effective. But on Sunday, March 12, its online edition presented mask mandates as a debatable proposition: Should we use them in the next pandemic?

Using a “Yes” or “No” format, the Times relied on Dr. Anders Tegnell, former state epidemiologist for Sweden, to defend the “No Mask Mandate” position. Given the parameters of the hypothetical pandemic that the Times posed (only five cases of a deadly respiratory virus in a single jurisdiction and 10 cases nationwide), Tegnell said that masks should be used in health and elder care settings. He said that it was too soon for a mandate, but the decision would depend on how the situation unfolded.

So even the “No” wasn’t really a no. The Times failed to mention that Tegnell had presided over his country’s disastrous “do-nothing” response during the first year of COVID-19, when Sweden’s COVID death rate far exceeded neighboring Nordic countries.

How It Will Haunt Us

Stephens moved on without remorse, but the incalculable damage left in his wake endures. Mask mandates are disappearing and won’t return any time soon, but not because they were ineffective when needed. The catastrophic consequences of Stephens’ disinformation will arrive when the next airborne virus (or COVID variant) strikes, pandemic victims overwhelm hospitals, policymakers and the public disregard science, and a proven mitigation tool remains on the shelf.

The Times is complicit. After failing to issue a correction to Stephens’ column, it then regressed to both-sidesism. Presenting both sides of an issue as if they stand on equal, fact-based footing when they don’t is not journalism. It’s an insidious form of disinformation.

When it involves public health, it can be deadly.

The GOP’s “Weaponization” Subcommittee Leads to…. Kash Patel!

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on March 8, 2023

Worse than a bust, it’s a boomerang.

As part of the deal to become Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promised far-right extremists a new committee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government. Its first chairperson, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), claims that “dozens” of “whistleblowers” have come forward with evidence that the Department of Justice – including the FBI – has been targeting conservatives.

So far, Jordan has surfaced with only three disgruntled former FBI employees who have little first-hand knowledge and a lot of baggage.

But behind two of them lies the real story. 

The Roster and the Real Story

Jordan’s first “star witness” is George Hill, a former FBI analyst in Boston’s field office. On Twitter, Hill claimed that the Jan. 6 attack was a “set up” and that there was “a larger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI.” He also described the FBI as “the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC” – a reference to Hitler’s Nazi storm troopers.

The other two are Stephen Friend and Garrett O’Boyle. Friend resigned as a special agent in the FBI’s Daytona Beach office after refusing to take part in a S.W.A.T. raid of a suspect in the January 6 insurrection. The suspect was an alleged member of the right-wing Three Percenter militia who posted a video of himself carrying an AR-15-style rifle outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Garrett O’Boyle is an FBI special agent from the Wichita office. The FBI suspended him, but he refuses to say why.

But the real story is that Friend and O’Boyle have a common benefactor – Kash Patel, who has provided them with financial support. Patel sent Friend $5,000 almost immediately after they connected in November 2022 and has helped to promote Friend’s forthcoming book. Patel also got Friend his new job at the Center for Renewing America (CRA), a far-right organization where Patel is a fellow.

Another CRA fellow is former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, who pushed Trump to overturn the 2020 election. Appearing before the House’s January 6 committee, Clark asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.

But the person to watch is 43-year-old Kash Patel, formerly a top Jordan aide. In his meteoric rise to the upper echelon of Trump advisers, he has been the Forrest Gump of Trump’s biggest scandals.


In the spring of 2017, Patel joined Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staff on the House Intelligence Committee and became an active participant in the effort to undermine the Trump-Russia investigation. As senior committee counsel, Patel became a key contributor to the Nunes memo attacking the FBI and the Justice Department.

In early 2019, Patel became senior counsel to Jim Jordan on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Trump’s First Impeachment

By the time Trump tried to shake down Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019, Patel had moved to the president’s National Security Council. Ukraine was outside Patel’s portfolio of official responsibilities, but Trump referred to him as one of his top Ukraine policy specialists. The NSC specialists actually in charge of Ukraine policy feared that Patel was a backchannel to Trump – fueling the false narrative that Ukraine had interfered on behalf of Democrats in the 2016 election.

The Election, the Insurrection, and Trump’s Second Impeachment

In February 2020, Trump named Patel as principal deputy to Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, another fierce Trump loyalist. A month later, Patel met with intelligence officials and imposed limits on what they could tell congressional leaders during closed-door sessions about Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 presidential election.

Patel got another promotion on November 10, shortly after every news outlet had confirmed that Trump had lost the election. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and appointed Patel – who had no military background – as chief of staff for Esper’s replacement, Christopher Miller.

A month later, Trump planned to name Patel deputy director of the CIA, but fierce resistance at the 11th hour from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone caused Trump to reverse course.

After the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Patel was among the top Defense Department officials whose phones were “wiped” – deleting all text messages before, during, and after the insurrection.

The Mar-a-Lago Documents

By early 2022, the controversy between Trump and the National Archives over Trump’s refusal to return presidential records, including classified material, was intensifying. In April, Trump named Patel to the board of his social media company. In May, Patel began claiming publicly and without evidence that Trump had declassified the documents. By then, the Archives had already referred the matter to the Justice Department. Shortly thereafter, a grand jury issued a subpoena to recover the material.

During Patel’s October 13, 2022 appearance before the federal grand jury investigating Trump’s handling of the Mar-a-Lago documents, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Three weeks later, Patel testified under a Justice Department grant of immunity from prosecution.

The Next Chapter

In July 2022, Axios reported that Trump and his allies were preparing a plan for Trump’s second term that would empower him to fire 50,000 federal workers throughout the bureaucracy and replace them with sycophants. At the top of his would-be administration, Trump wants people with “courage,” such as Jeffrey Clark – a potential Trump attorney general – and Kash Patel.

Citing sources close to Trump, the Axios article concluded, “If Patel could survive Senate confirmation, there is a good chance Trump would make him CIA or FBI director. If not, Patel would likely serve in a senior role in the White House.”

When it comes to “weaponizing” the federal government for partisan gain, Trump still has no equal – and no shortage of loyalists like Jim Jordan’s former aide, Kash Patel, waiting to pull the trigger.

Whatever Happened to the New York Times Fact-Checker?

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on February 25, 2023.

Labeling a newspaper column an “opinion” doesn’t create a license to play fast and loose with facts.

All of my op-eds for the New York Times have gone through rigorous fact-checking with a conscientious Times editor. Apparently, columnist Bret Stephens is exempt from any such requirement. The Times should alert its readers to his special status so they can protect themselves.

Masks Work

For years, the science of masking to minimize the spread of airborne viruses, including COVID, has been settled. But Stephens’ February 21 column mischaracterized a recent review of other researchers’ studies to push his anti-masking views. In the process, he made the Times a megaphone for broadcasting incomplete, misleading, and dangerous assertions as if they were facts.

Stephens began his column by describing the Cochrane Library’s January 30, 2023 review as the “most rigorous and comprehensive analysis of scientific studies on the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — including Covid-19.” Then he wrote that one of the study’s 11 authors, Tom Jefferson, said its conclusions “were unambiguous.”

We’ll return to that one.

Quoting Jefferson, Stephens continued, “‘There’s just no evidence that they’ – masks – ‘make any difference.’”

How about high-quality N-95 masks?

Again, quoting Jefferson, Stephens wrote, “‘Makes no difference – none of it.’”

Stephens then quoted Jefferson on the futility of using masks in conjunction with many other accepted medical precautions – hand hygiene, physical distancing, or air filtration: “‘There’s no evidence that many of these things make any difference.’”

Stunning statements – and flat-out wrong. Even Cochrane’s review undermined Jefferson’s draconian certainty. The “plain language summary” accompanying the published review began with this “Key message” about its findings: “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.”

“Uncertain” is a far cry from “unambiguous.”

Then again, Jefferson has been wrong before. In March 2020, he said of COVID, “[T]here does not seem to be anything special about this particular epidemic of influenza-like illness.” In July 2020, he asserted that COVID may have been lying dormant around the world, rather than originating in China. And for years, he has been hostile toward masking.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Stephens used Jefferson’s comments to introduce his larger argument: “Mask mandates were a bust.” As he attacked the CDC’s “mindless adherence to its masking guidance,” Stephens failed to mention the growing body of medical and scientific literature lambasting those misusing Cochrane’s review to undermine masking generally.

First, Cochrane’s was not a new scientific study. It retrieved and combined data from separate trials that varied greatly in “quality, design, populations, and outcomes” in what scientists call a “meta-analysis.” But combining such apples, oranges, grapes, peaches, and pears can create problems.

That’s why the 11 Cochrane authors themselves warned: “The variable quality of the studies hampers drawing any firm conclusions.”

Second, most of the actual trials in Cochrane’s review tested only mask effectiveness at preventing infection in the wearer. They ignored the potential benefits of face masks in preventing the spread of infection to others. In fact, buried in Stephens’ op-ed is his telling admission:

“[T]he analysis does not prove that proper masks, properly worn, had no benefit on an individual level.”

Third, Cochrane’s authors acknowledged that in their assessment of community-wide masking effectiveness, “Relatively low numbers of people followed the guidance about wearing masks or about hand hygiene, which may have affected the results of the studies.” 

How can anyone conclude from clinical trials that masks don’t work when most people in the trials didn’t wear them, much less wear them correctly?

Likewise, some of the studies in Cochrane’s review relied on participants to self-report their mask usage. That’s a big problem. In a study of masking in Kenya, 76% of participants self-reported masking in public, but the actual observed masking rate was only 5%.

The Cochrane Review Itself Repeatedly Acknowledged Its Limitations

As a group, Cochrane’s authors themselves listed the many limitations of their review that accounted for “the observed lack of effect of mask-wearing”: poor study design, lower adherence to mask-wearing (especially among children), the quality of the masks used, and more.

Commenting on Cochrane’s review, one medical fact-checker observed, “Each of these factors increases the risk of bias, reducing the reliability of [Cochrane’s] conclusions. In addition, while some studies confirmed the type of [COVID] infection by a laboratory test, many others relied on self-reporting to assess both mask-wearing and infection, further increasing the risk of bias.” 

All of which explains why Cochrane’s authors collectively expressly discounted their own conclusions about the effectiveness of population-level masking: “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.”

Again, the authors’ “plain language summary” accompanying the review noted: “Our confidence in these results is generally low to moderate for the subjective outcomes related to respiratory illness….”

In less technical terms: “garbage in, garbage out.”

Tragedy Ahead

The New York Times’ failure to fact-check Stephens on this critical public health issue has real-world consequences. It prolongs needless controversy over whether wearing masks protects individuals from COVID when the proven fact is that they do. As a result of Stephens’ rant, some people will decide not to wear a mask, even in high-risk settings. Some people will become ill. Some people will be hospitalized. Some people will die.

For me and the millions of immunocompromised households in America, this is especially personal. To a great degree, our health depends upon others wearing masks to protect us, as well as them, in high-risk settings. We’re on the front lines of a war that Americans can win. But Bret Stephens and the New York Times have erected another misinformation obstacle to victory over the pandemic.

Waiting for Stephens’ Next Epiphany

Maybe someday Stephens will change his mind, as he did with climate change. For more than a decade, he was a leading climate-change denier. While still at the Wall Street Journal, he wrote in 2008 that global warming was “a mass hysteria phenomenon.” A year later, he said that the intellectual methods of “global warming true believers” were “instructively similar” to Stalin’s. 

But in August 2022, Stephens’ trip to Greenland’s melting glaciers resulted in “fresh thinking” that produced a lengthy op-ed for the Times. He opened his eyes and changed his mind:

“I always said to myself, that I should never be afraid to change my mind in public, even on subjects where I’ve taken, you know, I’ve really put a stake in the ground. So that was, that was how that long 6,000-word giant piece came to life….”

Using the thin reed of the latest Cochrane Library review, Stephens has put another bad stake in the ground. Someday he might change his mind. But the country can’t afford to wait the years that it took for his epiphany on global warming.

Visiting COVID patients in an ICU might accelerate his awakening. Perhaps Stephens could bring along another New York Times columnist without public health qualifications who has downplayed COVID repeatedly – David Leonhardt.

If they believe what Stephens led his readers to conclude on February 21, they won’t wear masks. And they’ll encourage the doctors and nurses in attendance to remove theirs.

HELP WANTED: Five Rational Republicans Willing to Save the U.S. Economy

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on February 8, 2023.

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation’s debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.


Five is a magic number. A mere five Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives must step up—and soon.

They must join all House Democrats to prevent a massive, self-inflicted national wound. They must place their country above a nihilistic, anti-democratic—with a small “d”—GOP that obfuscates and excuses the January 6 insurrection as a “peaceful protest.” They must weather the wrath of a MAGA-dominated Republican party.

And so far, they are missing in action.

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation’s debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.

Lies and Hypocrisy Meet a Constitutional Mandate

Incorrectly characterizing America’s debt ceiling, congressional Republicans suggest that it’s analogous to an individual’s credit card: “You hit the limit and can’t spend anymore.”

But the nation’s debt limit has nothing to do with future spending. Raising the ceiling merely allows the federal government to pay debts it has already incurred for expenditures that Congress previously approved.

The U.S. Constitution has already spoken on this issue: “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”

Even so, if Republican extremists who control House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) prevail, sometime this summer the U.S. Treasury will exhaust the extraordinary measures now underway to avert defaulting on that debt. The nation and the world could nosedive into an economic recession or worse.

In Part, It’s About 2024

Democrats and Republicans raised the ceiling three times under President Donald Trump as he increased the national debt by $7 trillion. So what new urgency prompts the current GOP trek toward economic apocalypse?

A partial answer is that President Joe Biden is a Democrat. The best case for any Democratic victory in 2024 is the economy. It has come roaring back on his watch: More jobs created in the first two years than any president in history, bipartisan support for historic infrastructure investment and climate action, easing inflation, falling gas prices, and more. The best way to defeat any Democrat in 2024 is to kill the economy. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling might do the trick.

America has been down this road. Before the midterm elections in 2010 ushered in the first GOP Tea Party candidates, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that making President Barack Obama a one-term president was “the single most important thing we want to achieve.” Republicans then won control of the House.

A year later, McConnell played the debt-ceiling card. Only 72 hours before a U.S. default in 2011, McConnell agreed to raise the limit in return for cuts in future government spending. Along the way, he also killed Obama’s proposal for tax increases on the wealthy as an alternative method of balancing future budgets.

But in the weeks leading up to that 11th hour resolution, uncertainty surrounding the negotiations roiled financial markets. Stocks plummeted and didn’t recover for months. Volatility spiked; interest rates increased; S&P downgraded the nation’s debt rating; and the country’s borrowing costs went up by $1.3 billion.

President Obama still won a second term. And this time around, even McConnell sees the folly of threatening a U.S. government default.

“In the end, I think the important thing to remember is that America must never default on its debt. It never has, and it never will,” McConnell said last month. “We’ll end up in some kind of negotiation with the administration over what the circumstances or conditions under which the debt ceiling [will] be raised.”

McConnell assumes that reasonable minds will prevail. But today’s House Republicans make that a dangerous assumption.

Thelma and Louise Go To Washington

The fact that President Biden is a Democrat is not the only reason for Republican obstruction. After all, following the 2011 debacle, Republicans approved additional debt limit increases during the Obama administration with far less drama. But this time really is different.

The embarrassing spectacle of McCarthy’s election as speaker makes clear that a few far-right extremists now control him and the GOP’s House majority. Economic ruin doesn’t scare them. At their core, they are nihilists. Destruction is in their DNA.

Negotiate, McConnell says. How can anyone negotiate with hostage takers who refuse to say what they want? Beyond unspecified cuts to future spending, the GOP won’t even list its demands. But a few “emerging GOP ideas” have appeared.

During his State of the Union speech, President Biden noted correctly that some Republicans in Congress had proposed “sunsetting” Social Security and Medicare. He was referring to Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) infamous 11-point plan to “rescue America,” which would require congressional re-enactment of all federal legislation – including Social Security and Medicare – after five years.

From the audience, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelled, “Liar.” When other Republicans joined her heckling, Biden embraced their new collective promise not to cut those programs:

“So, folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now. Right? All right. We’ve got unanimity!”

Republicans applauded the line. Time will tell if the GOP promise sticks.

Other Republican “ideas” would actually increase spending, such as additional border wall funding. Likewise, House Republicans have already voted to approve another GOP “idea”: reduce $80 billion in previously authorized IRS funding slated to hire 87,000 more employees and modernize antiquated systems. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Republican plan would actually increase the deficit because it would reduce federal revenue by $186 billion.

The most candid of the congressional far-right extremists would refuse to increase the debt limit at all and allow the economy to go off a cliff – like the title characters in Thelma and Louise speeding into the Grand Canyon.

Prominent financial players, including Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, hope that default doesn’t happen. But as Moynihan observed on February 6, “Hope is not a strategy.”  He is preparing his institution for a possible U.S. default, and he’s not alone.

Five rational Republicans in the House can stop the madness, provided the Democratic candidate wins Virginia’s February 21 special election for a currently open seat.

Otherwise, it will take six.

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Don’t Call Them Election Deniers. Call them Election Liars

This post first appeared at Common Dreams on October 24, 2022.

“Lie: To make an untrue statement with intent to deceive.”
“Liar: A person who tells lies.”

            Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Thomas Jefferson warned that an informed citizenry would be crucial to the survival of democracy. In pursuit of that mission today, words matter and the media bear a special responsibility to get them right. When they don’t, democracy itself can become the ultimate victim. That’s happening now.

Universally, the media have settled on the term election “denier” to describe election liars. The difference goes far beyond semantics.

Election “denier” is tailor-made for today’s “bothsidesism” press. It implies the existence of two defensible but competing positions on President Joseph Biden’s unambiguous victory. It allows the media to straddle both sides of a polarized electorate without the risk of alienating those offended by the plain truth. Clarity yields to the chase for subscribers, viewers, and online clicks.

But by definition, those spreading the Big Lie that Trump won the election are liars. Asserting otherwise ignores Biden’s resounding popular vote and Electoral College wins, followed by Trump’s 60+ unsuccessful court challenges seeking to reverse those results. It disregards schemes that are the subject of federal and state criminal investigations to subvert the election. It perpetuates the danger that culminated in the January 6 insurrection.

And it undermines what matters most to American democracy: public confidence in free, fair, and secure elections.

The widespread use of election “denier” is the culmination of the press’s struggle to cover Donald Trump appropriately. Until 2015, the country had never seen a presidential candidate like him. Rarely calling him a persistent liar – which he is – news organizations accused him of more benign acts: “dishonesty, spreading falsehoods, misrepresenting facts, distorting news, passing on inaccuracies, and being loose with the truth.”

The Washington Post didn’t use the word “lie” about a false Trump assertion until August 22, 2018. By then, its fact checker had documented his more than 4,200 “false or misleading claims” but had never used the “L” word. Rationalizing his prior reluctance, the fact checker wrote, “[I]t is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth.”

Actually, it’s not. In a court of law, juries can and do infer intent from surrounding facts and circumstances, including prior bad acts. By the time Trump left office, the fact checker had found more than 30,000 “false or misleading” Trump claims, but rarely had the paper called them lies.

Likewise, Associated Press standards editor John Daniszewski explained, “[W]e feel it’s better to say what the facts are, say what the person said and let the audience make the decision whether or not it’s an intentional lie.”

Such disingenuous sophistry abdicates the press’ fundamental responsibility in a democracy. Trump has overwhelmed the public with lies, and his allies have amplified them. Americans need the help of respected news organizations to separate fact from fiction. Identifying lies – and avoiding euphemisms in describing them – should be part of every real journalist’s (and headline editor’s) job.

In 2018, Dean Baquet, then-executive editor of the New York Times, offered this excuse:

“The word ‘lie’ is very powerful. For one thing, it assumes that someone knew the statement was false. Another reason to use the word judiciously is that our readers could end up focusing more on our use of the word than on what was said. And using ‘lie’ repeatedly could feed the mistaken notion that we’re taking political sides. That’s not our role.”

Previous press malfeasance does not justify its current failures. Take Baquet’s points in order and apply them anew to election liars: First, the power of the word “lie” is all the more reason to use it when democracy’s survival hangs in the balance. Second, election liars know that Biden won because – almost two years later – they can cite no credible evidence to the contrary. Third, audiences should focus on the fact that Trump and his allies are lying to them about Biden’s right to the presidency.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, labeling election liars accurately is not “taking political sides.” It’s the responsibility of a free press in the fight to save democracy.

The descent down the slippery slope of equivocation is swift. On October 13, 2022, the front-page headline of the Times’ online edition read: “Over 370 Republican Candidates Have Cast Doubt on the 2020 Election.”

“Cast Doubt” – that’s not so bad, right? Two days later, the article’s headline in my home-delivery print edition was worse: “2020 Election Skeptics Crowd the Republican Ticket Nationwide.”

“Skeptics” – that’s a good trait, isn’t it? To ancient Greek philosophers, skeptics were merely critical thinkers about debatable propositions. The current dictionary definitions of skepticism include “an attitude of doubt… either in general or toward a particular object” and “the doctrine that… knowledge in a particular area is uncertain.”

But there is no longer any doubt or uncertainty about President Joseph Biden’s election victory. Asserting the contrary view is lying. Period.

The election liars’ only intent is to deceive, and their battle cry is simple: “If we don’t win the next election, it must have been rigged – just as the last one was.”

To observe the impact of failing to call election liars what they are, look at videos depicting the death and destruction that occurred on January 6.

Look at how, since January 6, Trump’s Big Lie has metastasized throughout the GOP and the American body politic.

Look at gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R-AZ). In a CNN appearance on October 16, 2022, she refused to commit to accepting defeat.

Look at how the stage is set for violence and chaos that could erupt in key states and congressional districts where Republicans lose in November.

But some of the election liars will win in November 2022.

Now imagine November 2024.

Timeline of Trump’s Lies: The Mar-a-Lago Papers and ‘Consciousness of Guilt’

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on August 17, 2022.

Day after day in the unfolding Mar-a-Lago scandal, Trump’s own words have added evidence of criminal wrongdoing that could cost him a lot more than money.


Former president Donald Trump is unleashing a barrage of contradictory lies about the FBI’s search of a possible crime scene – Mar-a-Lago. As each lie collapses under the weight of incontrovertible facts, he moves on to a new one. In 2018, Trump adviser Steve Bannon described the strategy to author Michael Lewis:

“The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

Except this time Trump’s very real opposition is the U.S. Department of Justice, and federal prosecutors are not so easily distracted. With every lie that Trump tells and then abandons, he creates new evidence of what prosecutors call “consciousness of guilt” – a defendant’s post-crime conduct indicating an awareness that he or she committed the offense.

Ironically, as Trump spun his Mar-a-Lago lies, he sat for a deposition in the New York attorney general’s civil suit that threatens his wealth. Trump refused to answer every question, except his name. He asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times.

Yet day after day in the unfolding Mar-a-Lago scandal, Trump’s own words have added evidence of criminal wrongdoing that could cost him a lot more than money.

Timeline Leading to the Search

January 2022: After months of wrangling with the National Archives, Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential documents that he had no right to possess. Under the Presidential Records Act, they were and are the property of the American people. When he left office, they should have gone to the Archives, regardless of whether they were classified.

February 2022: While in office, Trump had torn up documents and flushed them down the White House residence toilet. As Archives officials reviewed the 15 boxes of material recovered in January 2022, they discovered previously torn documents that White House records management personnel had taped back together. They found other documents that remained in tatters.

Archives officials realized that some boxes contained classified material and suspected that some records were missing altogether. They referred the matter to the Justice Department.

April-May 2022: Federal agents quietly interviewed Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago about the handling of presidential records.

June 3, 2022: Four Justice Department investigators met with Trump’s lawyers at Mar-a-Lago and visited a basement room housing the documents. During the meeting, the investigators served a grand jury subpoena for some of the sensitive national security documents and took those documents with them.

Around this time, one of Trump’s lawyers certified that Trump had now returned all classified material in the storage room boxes.

June 8, 2022: Trump’s attorneys received a letter from federal investigators asking them to increase security for the document storage room in the basement at Mar-a-Lago. Trump aides added a padlock.

June 22, 2022: Federal investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization for surveillance tape of the Mar-a-Lago document storage area. The tape allowed investigators to determine who had accessed that area.

Aug. 5, 2022: Based on an evidentiary showing of probable cause that the search would lead to evidence of a crime, a federal magistrate judge approved the warrant to search specific areas of Mar-a-Lago.

Timeline of Trump’s Lies

Lie #1: Persecution

Aug. 8, 2022: The FBI conducted the search and gave Trump’s representatives a copy of the warrant. When they finished, they also provided Trump with an inventory listing everything that the FBI had found and seized.

The warrant revealed that the FBI was seeking evidence of serious crimes involving destruction of government records, obstruction of justice, and the Espionage Act.

The inventory revealed that the FBI had found 20 boxes of material that included 11 sets of classified documents. Some documents were marked “Secret,” “Top Secret,” or “Top Secret/Secured Compartmented Information” – one of the highest levels of classification. 

That evening, Trump complained publicly about the search, calling it political persecution. He had a copy of the warrant and inventory that proved otherwise, but the public didn’t.

Lie #2: The FBI is corrupt

August 10, 2022: Trump suggested falsely that the FBI may have planted evidence during the search.

August 11, 2022: Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he would seek public disclosure of the search warrant and the inventory of items that the FBI had collected during the search. Those documents would reveal the criminal statutes involved and the results of the search, thereby exposing Trump’s lies about “persecution” and supposedly “FBI-planted” material.

Lie #3: Obama did it too

August 11, 2022: On his social network platform, Trump pivoted to a new lie that also introduced a red herring. He claimed falsely that former President Barack Obama took millions of classified documents with him. In fact, the National Archives retained custody of President Obama’s records when he left office, including those sent to an Archives facility in the Chicago area. Moreover, the criminal statutes cited in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant apply to classified and unclassified documents.

August 12, 2022: The National Archives publicly refuted Trump’s lie.

Lie #4: Trump declassified everything

August 12: Trump announced that he would not oppose the release of the search warrant and inventory, and the federal magistrate judge unsealed them. With public disclosure of the serious potential crimes identified in the warrant, coupled with the classified material listed in the inventory, Trump resorted to a new lie that highlighted his red-herring issue. Without any supporting documentation, he claimed that he had issued a “standing order” declassifying everything that went to Mar-a-Lago.

But that contradicted what one of Trump’s lawyers had certified to the Justice Department in June, namely, that all classified material at Mar-a-Lago had been returned.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said that Trump’s claim to have issued a standing order was “almost certainly a lie.” Bolton knew of no such order, adding, “When somebody begins to concoct lies like this, it shows a real level of desperation.”

Glenn Gerstell, Trump’s former top lawyer for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, called Trump’s claim of a standing order “preposterous.”

Lies #5 and #6 in the works?

Aug. 14, 2022: On CNN, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said that he hadn’t seen the Mar-a-Lago documents. Nevertheless, he still raised doubts about whether the documents really had risen “to the highest level of classified material.” (Never mind those pesky “Secret,” “Top Secret,” and “Top Secret/SCI” designations. And never mind that Trump’s entire “classified v. declassified” argument is a red-herring anyway.)

Turner, by the way, is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

Aug. 16, 2022: Former Trump White House aides began blaming former chief of staff Mark Meadows for failing to return presidential documents before Trump left office.

You might think that Trump’s Republican defenders would have grown weary of his contradictory lies, pause before pushing each new one, or notice that Trump throws even his staunchest loyalists under the bus.

You’d be wrong. They’ve already coalesced around several conflicting whoppers.

And it’s only been a week.

The ‘Missing Text Messages’ Timeline: Incompetence, Obstruction, or Worse?

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on August 2, 2022.

As Trump railed against the “Deep State,” he was creating one of his own.


Behind the story of missing text messages from the U.S. Secret Service and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is a bigger scandal: Former President Donald Trump placed his loyalists in key executive branch positions for a reason. Many are still there.

Trump’s Loyalists

The most benign explanation for the widespread disappearance of the Secret Service’s text messages surrounding the January 6 insurrection is the stunning incompetence of the agency’s leadership. The actual explanation may be more nefarious.

April 2019: Trump removed Secret Service Director Randolph Alles. He had been former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s selection for the post. But by the end of December 2018, Trump had ousted Kelly as White House chief of staff and began to purge the DHS of Kelly’s leadership team there.

To replace Alles, Trump wanted Tony Ornato, who had led Trump’s personal security detail until Trump made him White House deputy chief of staff—an unprecedented move for supposedly apolitical Secret Service agents. Ornato told Trump to pick James Murray to head the Service instead. After a 10-minute interview with Murray, Trump did.

July 2019: Trump appointed Joseph Cuffari to replace the DHS inspector general (DHS OIG). During the six prior years, Cuffari had been an advisor to Arizona’s Republican governors, Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey. As DHS’s IG, he was supposed to be the independent, non-partisan watchdog overseeing the department.

But that was never how Trump saw any IG. During a six-week period in April and May 2020, Trump fired five IGs, including Michael Atkinson—his own appointee. Atkinson had determined that Congress should see the “credible” and “urgent” whistleblower complaint that led eventually to Trump’s first impeachment. Then he alerted the Congress that Trump’s director of national intelligence had withheld that complaint from lawmakers.

June 2020: Following the police murder of George Floyd, the Secret Service helped to clear Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square for Trump’s photo op—where he held up a Bible. Ten days later, career staffers in Cuffari’s office proposed an investigation into whether the Service had violated its use-of-force policies. Cuffari blocked the probe.

August 2020: While protecting Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during campaign rallies and appearances, dozens of Secret Service agents contracted COVID-19. Cuffari sought to limit—and then ultimately shelved—an investigation into whether the Service ignored federal protocols to detect and reduce the spread of the pandemic within its workforce.

The Missing Texts Timeline—So Far

In addition to protecting the nation’s leaders, the Secret Service possesses the world’s leading cybersecurity expertise. But now it claims to have botched a standard technological exercise.

Fall 2020: According to the Secret Service, it began planning to migrate all electronic devices to a new system. The process would erase all employees’ text messages from their phones.

Dec. 9, 2020: The Secret Service Office of Strategic Planning sent an email to agency employees reminding them of their responsibility to preserve records and including instructions on how to do so. The agency’s chief information officer sent a similar email in January 2021.

Jan. 16, 2021: As Trump’s second impeachment investigation proceeded, multiple House committees directed DHS—which includes the Secret Service—to produce all materials relating to January 6. Additional congressional requests came on March 25, August 11, and August 25, 2021.

Jan. 20, 2021: Inauguration Day

Jan. 25, 2021: The Secret Service told its personnel to back up their phones’ data, leaving individual agents to decide what they should preserve. IT experts later described that approach as “ludicrous” and “crazy.”

Jan. 27, 2021: The systemwide migration began, deleting anything that individual agents had not backed up.

Feb. 4, 2021: All Secret Service employees received an email instructing them to preserve all communications specific to Jan. 6.

Feb. 26, 2021: Cuffari’s office first requested electronic documents from the Secret Service, “after the migration was well under way,” according to the Service.

Apr. 1, 2021: The systemwide migration was completed.

May 2021: The Secret Service notified Cuffari’s office that its agents’ text messages had been deleted, but Cuffari did not inform Congress.

June 11, 2021: Cuffari’s office requested records and texts from 24 Secret Service employees, including the heads of Trump’s and Pence’s security details, relating to January 6, 2021.

July 27, 2021: Cuffari’s Deputy IG Thomas Kait, a Trump appointee who had been involved in revising an unpublished December 2020 report to downplay domestic violence and sexual misconduct by DHS law enforcement agency officers, told DHS that the IG’s office was no longer seeking text messages from the Secret Service.

Dec. 3, 2021: Cuffari’s office reopened its inquiry into the missing text messages and submitted a new request for text messages from DHS.

Feb. 18, 2022: Late in the evening, one of Cuffari’s deputies emailedinvestigators, telling them to halt efforts to recover lost texts and other data.

Feb. 4, 2022: Deputy IG Kait removed language in a draft memo criticizing DHS for failing to provide previously requested documents, including text messages. The final version of the memo, dated Feb. 10, said the opposite, praising DHS’s response to the IG’s request.

Late February 2022: DHS notified Cuffari’s office that the text messages of Trump’s most senior DHS officials—acting Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli—had been lost in a “reset” of their phones when they left office in January 2021. But Cuffari did not inform Congress or investigate.

June 28, 2022: Cassidy Hutchinson testified publicly that on January 6, 2021, she met with Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. After Trump’s speech to the mob at the Ellipse, Ornato invited Hutchinson into his White House office where Engel was sitting in a chair “looking somewhat discombobulated and a little lost.” Ornato then explained why.

After the speech, Engel had refused Trump’s demand that the limo take him to the U.S. Capitol. A furious Trump lunged toward the driver. When Engel grabbed Trump’s arm to remove his hand from the steering wheel, Trump used his free arm to lunge toward Engel’s “clavicles.”

Through intermediaries, Ornato and Engel initially denied Hutchinson’s account. But when DHS officials invited them to dispute her story under oath, they hired lawyers and went silent.

The spotlight turned to possible text messages involving Engel and other agents—not only on January 6, but also during the days leading up to the insurrection. (Divergent stories still circulate about the reason Vice President Mike Pence refused to comply with the Secret Service’s request that he get into an armored limousine during the attack.)

July 7, 2022: Director Murray announced his resignation, effective July 30.

July 13, 2022: Cuffari wrote to the House and Senate committees charged with DHS oversight that the agency’s text messages for January 5 and 6, 2021, “were erased as part of a device replacement program… after [Cuffari’s office] requested” them. (Emphasis in original)

But then on July 14, 2022: The Secret Service issued a statement saying that Cuffari’s office “requested electronic communications for the first time on Feb. 26, 2021, after the migration was well under way. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phones’ data, but confirmed to OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration.” (Emphasis supplied)

July 19, 2022: The Secret Service produced only one text message, “namely, a text message conversation from former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to former Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan requesting assistance on January 6, 2021,” and said it did not have any further records responsive to the IG’s request for text messages.

July 20, 2022: The House’s January 6 Select Committee issued a statement saying that the Service’s failure to preserve the texts “may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act.”

Late on July 20, 2022: Cuffari’s office notified the Secret Service that it should halt its internal search for the missing texts so that it did not interfere with the IG’s “ongoing criminal investigation” into the matter.

July 28, 2022: Secret Service Director Murray announced that he will delay his resignation for a “brief period.”

The story is far from over. Two whistleblowers have come forward, and the National Archives wants to know what happened.

The Enemy Within

Like U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy, Cuffari is among the dozens of Trump holdovers still occupying key positions in the federal government.

As Trump railed against the “Deep State,” he was creating one of his own.

The Lawyers Who Enabled Trump’s Assault on Democracy

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on July 23, 2022.

Their prolonged silence forced the nation to live through the catastrophic consequences of their earlier cowardice.


Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone thinks that Mike Pence should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for refusing Trump’s demand to commit a felony and subvert a presidential election. That’s how low the bar for heroism among Trump administration alumni has sunk.

Lawyers Who Supported a Lawless President

When they entered the legal profession, the attorneys advising Trump swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. Those who took government jobs in his administration swore it again. But many of them facilitated Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine the rule of law.

The most notorious members of what former Attorney General William Barr now calls Trump’s post-election “clown show” may have been Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and Jeffrey Clark. But Barr, Cipollone, and others with law degrees – including Pence – helped to create the dangerous creature that roamed the White House on January 6, 2021. Their silence during Trump’s second impeachment and the months that followed has allowed that creature to continue haunting the country today.

Belatedly, three key Trump advisers with law degrees have now come forward to reveal the ugly truth about the man they had enabled for years.

Heroes or hypocrites?

William Barr

Barr, one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders in his administration, politicized the Justice Department to serve Trump’s personal agenda. For example:

  • He kneecapped special counsel Robert Mueller’s report by issuing a deceptive and misleading “summary” before it was public. Then he launched an all-out effort to discredit the entire Trump-Russia investigation. Finally, he intervened in cases Mueller had brought – and won – against Trump advisers Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, both of whom became prominent players in the insurrection.
  • For months preceding the 2020 election, Barr sowed doubts about its integrity while admitting that he had no supporting evidence.
  • In the opening sentence of his December 14, 2020 resignation letter – which Trump tweeted immediately – Barr reassured Trump that “the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election… will continue to be pursued.”

Barr now says that before he resigned, he told Trump repeatedly that the claims and conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud were “nonsense” and “bullshit.” But prior to the insurrection and for months thereafter, he did not reveal that to the public.

Pat Cipollone

Criticizing Trump publicly has been unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for Pat Cipollone. American taxpayers had paid him to represent the office of the president, not Trump personally. Apparently, he forgot.

  • During Trump’s first impeachment trial, Cipollone led the defense legal team and was among those lawyers who, in the service of Trump, lied repeatedly to the Senate and the public.
  • On December 18, 2020, he participated in the “unhinged” Oval Office meeting when Sidney Powell and others urged Trump to seize voting machines and appoint her special counsel to pursue non-existent election fraud.
  • In the infamous Oval Office session on January 3, 2021, he told Trump that Jeffrey Clark’s scheme to overturn the election was a “murder-suicide pact.”
  • On January 6, Cipollone urged Trump to stop the attack on the U.S. Capitol. He warned that Trump would have blood on his hands, and he was right: Five people died and more than 140 law enforcement officers were injured.

But it took a public shaming by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and the riveting testimony of a young staffer, Cassidy Hutchinson, to flush Cipollone out and into the witness chair. Finally – 18 months late – he revealed what he knew about Trump’s traitorous misconduct.

Steven Engel

Engel was with Trump from the beginning of his administration. As assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), he flew under the public radar, but his dubious legal opinions provided cover for Trump’s flagrant abuses of power.

  • After the House subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to pursue Mueller’s evidence that Trump had obstructed justice, Engel issued an opinion that Congress could not compel McGahn or other Trump advisers to testify – even to confirm what they had already told Mueller. More than two years later – after an appellate court rejected Engel’s position – McGahn eventually appeared. By then, no one cared.
  • The inspector general for the intelligence community (IGIC) determined that the whistleblower complaint leading to Trump’s first impeachment presented a “credible” matter of “urgent concern” and should be provided to Congress immediately. But Engel issued an opinion permitting Trump to withhold it. His conclusion and underlying legal analysis generated an unprecedented rebuke from the entire inspector general community — more than 60 IGs throughout the federal government: “[W]e agree with the ICIG that the OLC opinion creates a chilling effect on effective oversight and is wrong as a matter of law and policy.”
  • Days after Trump’s first impeachment trial in the Senate had begun, Engel issued an opinion defending Trump’s stonewalling of every subpoena that three House committees had issued to the executive branch during Congress’s Trump-Ukraine investigation. Constitutional scholar Frank O. Bowman III observed that Engel’s position was, “to be plain, ridiculous… absolutely daft…” If accepted, “The result is not only to neuter the impeachment power, but more profoundly, to cripple the fundamental check on executive mismanagement, abuse, corruption, and overreach embodied in their own power of oversight.”

At the Oval Office meeting on January 3, 2021, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, told Trump that if he appointed the manifestly unqualified Clark to replace Rosen, they would resign. Engel warned Trump that mass Justice Department resignations – including his own – would follow, and Clark would be “left leading a graveyard.”

But for more than a year, Engel said nothing publicly about that meeting.

Blood on Their Hands

While the January 3 Oval Office meeting was underway, the Washington Post broke the story of Trump’s tape-recorded call pressuring Georgia election officials the previous day.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

At that point, Cipollone, Engel, Rosen, and everyone else attending the Sunday night session knew that Trump was proceeding simultaneously on multiple fronts to overturn the election.

But as January 6 approached, they remained silent.

As the House impeached Trump for his role in the insurrection, they remained silent.

As GOP-dominated state legislatures and their Republican governors relied on Trump’s Big Lie to adopt draconian voter suppression laws and propose legislation seeking to thwart future popular presidential vote outcomes, they remained silent.

As Trump and his allies rewrote the story of the insurrection so that the armed mob became “peaceful protesters” and the attackers became “tourists,” they remained silent.

And as Republican leaders flip-flopped, they remained silent.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned Trump. Now he says he’d vote for him again.

Likewise, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that Trump bore responsibility for the attack. Now he has returned to his familiar role as Trump’s lackey.

On January 7, 2021, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “Count me out… The president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution. … It breaks my heart that my friend, a president of consequence, would allow [Jan. 6] to happen, and it will be a major part of his presidency. It was a self-inflicted wound.” In September 2021, Graham said that he hoped Trump runs again in 2024.

What If?

If Barr had broken his silence before January 6, would the violent attack on the Capitol even have occurred? 

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, if Cipollone, Engel, Rosen, and others had revealed what they knew, would Trump have remained the face of the GOP?

If collective fear hadn’t kept all of them quiet for so long, would Trump today be the “clear and present danger to democracy” that former Judge J. Michael Luttig warned?

Late is better than never for Republicans who resisted Trump’s attempted coup and have now come forward. But they are not profiles in courage. Their prolonged silence forced the nation to live through the catastrophic consequences of their earlier cowardice.

And those consequences endure.

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Alito’s Bad History Meets the Vendetta of Clarence Thomas

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on June 29, 2022.

If democracy dies, it will take a long and mighty struggle to get it back. In the interim, the personal damage to millions of Americans will be irreparable.

The Dobbs opinion overturning Roe. v. Wade is another marker on the road to where Republicans and the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative super-majority are taking the country. Millions of Americans cheer the journey. But a lot of them won’t like the final destination.

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Trump and His Allies Are “A Clear and Present Danger to American Democracy”

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on June 22, 2022.

Every responsible media representative should have been amplifying Luttig’s stark message, not deducting points based on performance.

On Thursday, June 16, a conservative icon issued an ominous warning about the most influential Republican in the country. Former federal appellate judge J. Michael Luttig concluded his testimony before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol with these words:

“Today, almost two years after that fateful day in January of 2021, still Donald Trump and his law allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Judge Luttig’s concerns carry enormous weight. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the federal appeals court. Years later, he landed on President George W. Bush’s short list of U.S. Supreme Court nominees twice. On the evening of January 4, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence’s outside counsel sought Luttig’s advice on a critical question:

Could the Vice President overturn the election, as Trump was demanding of Pence? Along with every other legal adviser whom Pence consulted on the subject, Luttig said no.

In a series of tweets the following morning, Luttig published his view. Immediately, reporters called him, and the New York Times reported on his tweets. Pence’s January 6 letter refusing Trump’s demand cited Luttig’s analysis.

Luttig’s testimony on June 16, 2022, was stunning. But MSNBC host Ari Melber—himself a lawyer—complained, “What Judge Luttig offers in credentials, he lacks in delivery. Out of the 1,000 witnesses, should he be one of the handful of live ones?”

Chyrons accompanying Melber’s program criticized Luttig’s “dry, meandering testimony” that was “drowned in legalese.”

Melber and his fellow media performance critics probably would have panned Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address. In a slow, shrill, and unpleasant voice, Lincoln began the speech with obtuse words in a meandering introduction: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent…”

Déjà Vu—Over and Over Again

The Beat with Ari Melber is among the most watched cable news programs, regularly beating CNN in its 6:00 p.m. (EDT) time slot. Viewers rely on his “quick-takes” to synthesize important stories that they don’t have time to follow closely themselves. Melber wasn’t alone in criticizing Luttig’s performance, but such commentary is neither “news” nor meaningful “analysis.” Every responsible media representative should have been amplifying Luttig’s stark message, not deducting points based on performance.

When style displaces substance, calamity follows. The nation has been down that dangerous road with Trump.

In 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller generated similar criticism. Dwarfed by the commentary about his “halting, faltering performance” before Congress was the undisputed evidence underlying his key conclusions: Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win the 2016 election; the Trump campaign embraced Russia’s help; and Trump systematically obstructed justice by interfering with investigations into the scandal. Future historians reading Mueller’s report will ask only one question about Trump-Russia: How did Trump remain in office and avoid prison?

The answer Is that Attorney General William Barr issued a deceptive “summary” of Mueller’s report that gave Trump the opening he needed to push a Big Lie that stuck: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.” Then congressional Republicans closed ranks in his defense.

But the final blow came when reporters and self-proclaimed “analysts” said that Mueller’s congressional performance wasn’t sufficient to resurrect the rule of law that Trump and his allies had destroyed. A powerful message dissolved in a critique of the messenger. What should have been Trump’s first impeachment never happened.

America paid the price. Emboldened by the failure to hold him accountable, Trump then attacked democracy by extorting Ukraine’s president to pursue a phony investigation into Joe Biden. This time, the House impeached Trump, but Senate Republicans left him free to strike again.

And strike again he did, mounting an even more aggressive assault on democracy with a new Big Lie—that the 2020 election had somehow been stolen from him. He set the stage for an attempted coup that resulted in death and destruction at the U.S. Capitol.

Next Time Will Be Worse

As Judge Luttig observed last week, “A stake was driven through the heart of American democracy on January 6, 2021….”

The House impeached Trump again, but once again, Senate Republicans let him off the hook. As a result, “[O]ur democracy today is on a knife’s edge,” said Luttig, who also explained that Trump’s newest attack is, as before, open and notorious:

“To this very day, the former president, his allies, and supporters pledge that in the presidential election of 2024, if the former president or his anointed successor as the Republican party presidential candidate were to lose that election, that they would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020.”

To that end, Trump is endorsing 2020 election “deniers” of President Biden’s victory. More than 100 of them have already won Republican primaries. Some are seeking critical positions that will control future elections in key states.

Three years ago, Robert Mueller urged that no one—not even the President of the United States—was above the law. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress proved him wrong.

Last week, J. Michael Luttig warned that if Trump slips away this time, the consequences will be catastrophic:

“I don’t speak those words lightly, I would never have spoken those words in my life, except that is what the former president and his allies are telling us… the former president and his allies are executing that blueprint for 2024 in open and plain view of the American public.

“I repeat, I would’ve never uttered one single one of those words unless the former president and his allies were candidly and proudly speaking those exact words to America.”

Luttig Gets the Last Word

Two days after testifying, Luttig responded to his performance critics—some of whom even questioned his health, just as they had Mueller’s. The ellipses in that series of tweets are his:

“I believed I had an obligation to the Select Committee and to the country, first to formulate . . . then to measure . . . and then . . . to meter out . . every . . . single . . . word . . . that I spoke . . . , carefully . . . exactingly . . . and . . . deliberately, so that the words I spoke were pristine clear and would be heard, and therefore understood, as such.

“I believed Thursday that I had that high responsibility and obligation—to myself, even if to no other. Also please bear in mind that Thursday was the first time in 68 years, to my knowledge, I had ever been on national television, let alone national television like that.

“And though not scared, I was concerned that I do my very best and not embarrass myself, as I think anyone who found themselves in that frightening circumstance would be.”

Judge Luttig closed with a personal rule that those offering media “quick-takes” would do well to follow:

“What I will say, though, is this. And I think it explains it all. All my life, I have said (as to myself, and at times, by way of sarcastic prescription for others) that I never . . . talk . . . any . . . faster . . . than . . . my . . . mind . . . can . . . think.”

Russia’s “Victory Day” and the Trump-Putin Alliance Against Ukraine

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on May 5, 2022.

Putin fell just one U.S. presidential election short of swift and complete success in Ukraine.


Vladimir Putin planned to conquer Ukraine by May 9—Russia’s annual “Victory Day” celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. Instead, he failed miserably and is a global pariah. NATO and U.S. support for Ukraine made all the difference.

But consider this: Putin fell just one U.S. presidential election short of swift and complete success in Ukraine. Prior to the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump told aides that he planned to withdraw the U.S. from NATO in his second term. And as recently as April 21, 2022, Trump boasted that, as President, he threatened our NATO allies, saying that he would not defend them against a Russian attack.

The Trump-Putin alliance was always hiding in plain sight. But Putin’s war on Ukraine has made many of the dots easier to connect.

Putin’s Motive, Means, and Opportunity

Addressing his nation in 2005, Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Restoring it required the conquest of Ukraine, but he needed help to accomplish that mission.

Enter Donald Trump.

The entire U.S. intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller, and the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to help Trump win. Launched in February 2017, the Trump-Russia Timeline at documented Putin’s efforts, as well as Trump’s presidential actions rewarding Russia’s dictator. When last updated in early 2021, the Timeline had over 2,000 entries. More than 600 relate to Ukraine.

Here’s a sample:

Paul Manafort

In 2007, Paul Manafort worked as a paid consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Putin dictator. By March 2016, the dictator had been deposed and Manafort was broke. Although deeply in debt, Manafort went to work without pay on the Trump campaign. By May, he was its chairman.


Summer 2016: Manafort began pushing the Kremlin lie that Ukraine was responsible for hacking Democratic National Committee computers. For the next four years, that lie became a pervasive Trump talking point. 

July 2016: Working behind the scenes, Trump’s campaign weakened a Republican Party platform plank that would have armed the Ukrainian popular resistance with weapons to combat Russia’s ongoing attacks in Crimea. After Manafort’s repeated denials, another Trump adviser eventually admitted that Trump himself had insisted on the change.

Later that month, Boris Epshteyn, a Russian-born Trump adviser, spouted Kremlin propaganda about the illegal seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea… But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.” (Epshteyn is now part of the Trump team urging states to “decertify” the 2020 election of President Biden, which is a legal impossibility.)

August 2016: Manafort met in Manhattan with his Kyiv-based business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had just flown in from Ukraine. Kilimnik was a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen and former Soviet military officer with ties to Russian intelligence. He and Manafort discussed a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine that was actually a “backdoor” for Russia’s permanent control of eastern Ukraine.

Trump Won!

November 2016: A few days before the U.S. presidential election, the pro-Kremlin leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia proclaimed that if Trump won, “Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine.” 

November 9, 2016: When Russia’s Parliament learned of Trump’s election, it erupted in applause.

January 2017: At the Manhattan Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with Trump’s business associate, Felix Sater, and Andrey Artemenko, a pro-Putin lawmaker from Ukraine. Artemenko and Sater gave Cohen a supposed “peace plan” for Ukraine.

July 2017: Trump met with Putin in Helsinki. Over the next several months, Trump promoted Putin’s lie, telling aides on several occasions that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. At one point, Trump told a senior aide that he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

Trump Extorted Ukraine

April 2019: After Volodymyr Zelensky became Ukraine’s president with an overwhelming 73 percent of the popular vote, Putin simplified the process for residents of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region to obtain a Russian passport. Meanwhile, Trump promoted the Russian lie that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

June 2019: Trump ordered a hold on distributing $250 million in military aid that Congress had authorized to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s ongoing attacks.

July 25, 2019: “I would like you to do us a favor though…” Trump said to Zelensky in their now-infamous phone call. He was holding U.S. military aid hostage to demands that Zelensky: 1) promote Putin’s lie that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election; and 2) smear Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election, Joseph Biden.

September 2019: During a joint appearance on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump urged Zelensky to “get together” with Putin and “solve your problem.”

The Putin-Trump Lie Persisted

November 20, 2019: As Republicans on the House Impeachment Committee and throughout Capitol Hill defended Trump’s extortion of Zelensky by pushing Russia’s lie that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election, Putin told an economic conference in Moscow: “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

November 21, 2019: Fiona Hill, a former member of the National Security Council and a leading authority on Russia and Putin, testified before the House Impeachment Committee: 

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute….” 

But Hill’s admonition didn’t stop Trump and his allies from continuing to push Putin’s lie.

November 22, 2019: On Fox & Friends, Trump repeated Putin’s lie, saying, “[A] lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine.”

November 24-December 1, 2019: Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-LA) said he didn’t know if Ukraine or Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC server and Clinton campaign emails. Appearing on “Meet the Press” a week later, Kennedy said falsely, “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. I think it’s been well documented.”

December 2, 2019: Politico reported that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee investigated and found no evidence to support claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

December 9, 2019: “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told ABC News.

Trump Remains Loyal to Putin

Trump’s initial take on Russia’s 2022 invasion was to call Putin “savvy” and a “genius.” He has showered endless praise on the Russian dictator, never uttering an unkind word about him. Russia’s state-controlled media has replayed all of it.

President Biden and a united NATO deprived Putin of the “Victory Day” celebration that he desired this year. But Putin isn’t finished – with Ukraine, Trump, or American democracy. Recently, U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that Putin may increase his efforts to interfere with upcoming U.S. elections.

Compared to the obstacles that Putin encountered in Ukraine, undermining American democracy is his path of least resistance to a momentous Russian “Victory Day” down the road. As Trump and his Republican allies suppress voting, place Trump’s minions in critical state positions that could influence election outcomes, and push bogus post-election audits that destroy voter confidence, they have become Putin’s accomplices.

The Ongoing GOP Attack on Democracy

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 25, 2022.

On March 28, 2022, a federal judge found that former President Donald Trump and attorney John Eastman engaged in “a coup in search of a legal theory.” The court concluded that, more likely than not, their efforts to overturn the presidential election were federal crimes.

The coup continues.

Trump lost by more than seven million votes, but his false claim that Democrats stole the election from him isn’t just about 2020 anymore. It’s about conditioning GOP voters for the ultimate Trump loyalty test: rejecting future elections that Trump or his designees lose. Sowing distrust in the system, Trump and his allies are proceeding state by state, one voter at a time.

“Look at Wisconsin”

On the eve of Wisconsin’s annual Republican convention in June 2021, Trump issued a statement filled with his standard “pants-on-fire” lies. Although he lost all recounts and legal challenges seeking to reverse his 2020 loss, Trump threatened the state’s GOP leaders with political annihilation if they didn’t spread his Big Lie by pursuing an unwarranted post-election “audit” of Wisconsin votes.

Trump scared them into submission. The next day, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced to the convention that he had appointed retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee an investigation into the 2020 presidential election. On January 9, 2022, Vos told an interviewer that he talked to Trump periodically about the investigation “just to keep him up-to-date to make sure he understands what’s happening but to know we are doing our very best.”

Two days later, when NPR’s Steve Inskeep confronted Trump about his persistent Big Lie, Trump denied, dissembled, and deflected: “Take a look at what’s going on in Wisconsin. You just take a look.”

Ok, let’s take a look.

Michael Gableman

Hours after news networks had called the election in favor of Joseph Biden on November 7, 2020, Gableman attended a pro-Trump rally in Milwaukee.

“I don’t think anyone would be here if we all had confidence that this was an honest election,” he said.

Addressing the crowd and lacking any evidence to support his claim, Gableman declared, “Our elected leaders — your elected leaders — have allowed unelected bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Elections Commission to steal our vote.”

Gableman’s GOP ties run deep. He’s a former chair of his local county Republican Party. He relied on GOP support to win a state supreme court seat in 2008. And he’s an avid Trump fan.

Immediately after Speaker Vos announced Gableman’s appointment to head the 2020 election investigation, Gableman told the GOP convention audience, “I’m glad to be here — glad to see so many friends.”

On March 1, 2022, Gableman presented his report to the Wisconsin Assembly’s election committee. It included bogus claims and false conspiracy theories, some from a pro-Trump website that has for years trafficked in misinformation.

But Gableman’s most dangerous ideas were legislative recommendations that would transfer electoral power to partisan political hacks. They included moving oversight from the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission to “a politically accountable body,” taking “a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election” (which is a legal impossibility), and establishing on the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly or Senate yet another post-election forum in which a losing candidate could air false claims of fraud in an effort to overturn the popular vote after exhausting all legal challenges.

Ominously, Gableman added, “This is just the beginning of the investigation.” The Republican-led legislature gave him a $676,000 taxpayer-funded budget and extended his probe to the end of April.

Trump promptly seized on Gableman’s dubious testimony and bogus conclusions, falsely labeling Wisconsin’s 2020 election corrupt. Two weeks later, John Eastman was taking his “coup in search of a legal theory” to Wisconsin, where he pressured Vos to nullify the 2020 election and reclaim the electors awarded to Biden.

The Assembly’s Republican majority leader, Jim Steineke, isn’t seeking re-election, so he was having none of it, declaring:

“I have ten months remaining in my last term. In my remaining time, I can guarantee that I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections…

“In a world where partisan divides are deep & seemingly anything can be justified as long as it results in retaining power, handing authority to partisan politicians to determine if election fraud exists would be the end of our republic as we know it.”

Ron Johnson

Trump and Gableman have an important Wisconsin ally, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. In April 2021, nine months beforeJohnson had even decided to seek reelection, Trump endorsed him to run again. The reasons are self-evident

On December 16, 2020, the courts had uniformly rejected Trump’s election fraud claims. But as then-chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Johnson convened a hearing that amplified Trump’s lies. Likewise, in February 2021, Johnson repeated the false claim that “fake Trump supporters” caused the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. And in May, he said, “By and large, it was peaceful protest.”

But at a GOP event in August when Johnson thought that he was speaking to a fellow Republican, he admitted, “I think it’s probably true that Biden got maybe seven million more popular votes. That’s the electoral reality. So to just say for sure that this was a stolen election, I don’t agree with that.”

Knowing that Trump lost the popular vote in Wisconsin, Johnson echoes Gableman’s recommendation that the Republican-controlled legislature replace the state’s bipartisan Election Commission in overseeing federal elections. Johnson said that Gableman’s report “raises severe issues regarding the 2020 election that need to be taken seriously. The goal of our efforts moving forward is to restore confidence in our election system.”

Other than Trump himself, few people in Wisconsin have done more to undermine voter confidence in the nation’s election system than Michael Gableman and Ron Johnson. Along with Trump allies throughout the country, they’re succeeding. According to a recent Marquette University Law School poll, three-fourths of Republicans nationwide are “not confident that the votes were accurately cast and counted in the 2020 presidential election.”

Danger Ahead

The long-term consequences of the Big Lie and its spawn are far more profound than specious cries to “decertify” the 2020 election.

“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer,” Hannah Arendt said in a 1974 interview. Arendt was a German-American philosopher who studied the origins of totalitarianism and wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which was an attempt to explain how ordinary people became participants in evil totalitarian systems.

Arendt continued: “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

November 2022: The Anti-Democracy Coalition

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 15, 2022.

In former President Donald Trump’s ongoing effort to dismantle democracy, his people gave Jim Marchant an important assignment. Marchant embraced it.

The Big Lie, QAnon, and a Coalition

Marchant’s mission began shortly after the November 2020 election, when he lost his bid to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Nevada.

“I got a suite in the Venetian hotel across the hall from the Trump attorneys and the Trump people that came in to start investigating the election fraud here in Nevada,” Marchant later told a QAnon audience at its October 2021 convention in Las Vegas. “And guess who showed up at my suite? Juan O Savin.”

Savin is the alias for an anonymous QAnon influencer and author. Some followers believe he is John F. Kennedy, Jr. in disguise. QAnon’s bizarre conspiracy theories include its core falsehood that a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control American politics and media. No longer on the far-right political fringe, QAnon followers now comprise 25 percent of Republicans.

“For the next three to five months, we worked on trying to expose the election, the fraudulent election here in Nevada and everywhere, actually,” Marchant continued, failing to mention that they failed to find fraud anywhere.

He went on to describe his new task, saying, “We need to take back the secretaries of state offices around the country. So not only did they ask me to run, they asked me to put together a coalition… I can’t stress enough how important the secretary of state offices are. I think they are the most important elections in our country in 2022. And why is that? We control the election system. In 2022, we’re going to take back our country.”

In most states, the secretary of state administers all elections and certifies outcomes used to determine electoral votes in presidential contests. Marchant’s coalition is working “behind the scenes to try to fix 2020 like President Trump said.”

“We have the original Rachel Hamm in California, Kristina Karamo in Michigan, Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona,” Marchant said in a January 2022 interview, identifying the members of his coalition. Trump has endorsed Karamo, Hice, and Finchem. Hice has denied that he was “part of a coalition” but is among the handful of candidates profiled on the “America First Secretary of State Coalition” website.

Marchant also claimed that others from Minnesota and Wisconsin would be joining. Currently, the coalition website also includes candidates from Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico. 

“Like-Minded” in Undermining Democracy

Marchant describes his group as a “coalition of like-minded secretary of state candidates” across the country. It promotes the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election. It supports voter suppression efforts. And without any evidence supporting its claims of widespread fraud, it is systematically undermining voter confidence in America’s elections.

“Your vote hasn’t counted for decades,” Marchant told the audience during a February 2022 debate with his GOP rivals for the secretary of state nomination. “You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected. You haven’t had a choice.”

Marchant relies an absurd antisemitic conspiracy theory to support the baseless claim. He asserts that powerful Jewish Democrats plotted for 20 years to defeat Republican presidential candidates by electing progressive secretaries of state to control election outcomes in key swing states. And he says that Trump’s loss in 2020 was “the direct result of that plan.”

He points to George Soros – a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1956 – and the late former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) – a Mormon who married a Jew – as key players in his fantasy. His views would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous.

The Cancer Spreads

Besides Marchant, other members of the coalition spoke at the QAnon convention last October. Michigan’s Kristina Karamo told the audience:

“First, I want to thank Jim Marchant for putting the coalition together. We owe him so much because you know, when I first asked to be a part of the coalition, and we came here today and we sat in a room and we met and we talked, all of us on the coalition together, and we realized how well coordinated, how nefarious this agenda was to undermine the will of the American people.”

Arizona’s Mark Finchem and California’s Rachel Hamm participated in a panel discussion during which Marchant outlined some of the coalition’s priorities for their candidates who win in November. They include advocating voter ID laws, limiting voting to a single day, discontinuing the use of mail-in ballots, and “cleaning up” voter rolls.

According to an NPR analysis in February 2022, “[A]t least 20 Republican candidates running [for secretary of state] question the legitimacy of President Biden’s 2020 win, even though no evidence of widespread fraud has been uncovered about the race over the last 14 months. In fact, claims of any sort of fraud that swung the election have been explicitly refuted in state after state, including those run by Republicans.”

If you live in any of the following states, a “2020 election denier” is seeking to become your next secretary of state: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In Pennsylvania, the governor selects the secretary of state, and the two front-runners for the Republican nomination are promoting Trump’s Big Lie too. Marchant has said that one of them, Doug Mastriano, is a member of his coalition. His profile is on the coalition’s website.

Historically, midterm elections don’t attract much voter interest. If such lethargy prevails this time, the outcome of a few key contests for secretary of state in November 2022 could lead to tragic consequences for American democracy in 2024 and beyond.

Now is the time to pick a side.

State Candidates and the Trump “Ticket” – He Said the Quiet Part Out Loud Again

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on April 5, 2022:

As he plants the seeds of democracy’s destruction, former President Donald Trump is open and notorious about his plan. Most recently, at an April 2 rally in Washington Township, Michigan, he exhorted the crowd to ask each candidate at the state’s upcoming Republican convention “if they will support the Trump ticket.” 

“If they won’t give you that assurance,” he continued, “don’t give them your vote.”

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