Tag Archives: politics

To Win in Georgia, Ignore the Data and Follow the Signs

A few days ago, a colleague encouraged me to check out the donation page of Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th district. The graphics were simple and clear, the Apple Pay checkout appeared to be smooth, the increments of pay accessible to all. It was a slick operation. “But whatever you do, DON’T sign up for the emails,” he warned. “I get, like twelve a day.” Read more…

Will Jeff Sessions’ Testimony Delight Us Like James Comey’s Did?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to testify in an open hearing today as part of the congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Some believe he may be more truthful this time than he was at his last public hearing, when he falsely claimed he never communicated with Russian entities. (Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice, and will likely be asked about a possible third meeting.)

Others are concerned President Donald Trump may try to block Sessions’ testimony at the eleventh hour. He has until 2:30pm to make his decision.

James Comey’s testimony last week drew more than 19 million viewers and raised new questions about the attorney general’s contact with Russia, his role in Comey’s firing, and his recusal from the investigation itself.

Much has been made of Comey asking Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump, which came up in Comey’s testimony. Comey also indicated the FBI knew that Sessions’ involvement in the investigation would have been “problematic” well before the attorney general recused himself:

He was … inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make [Sessions’s] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

Comey also said that Sessions “lingered” when Trump ordered him to leave the room before pressuring Comey to drop his investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. “My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which is why he was lingering.” Comey was also asked about Sessions’ involvement in his own firing, which the former FBI director deemed “a reasonable question.”

If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know, and so I don’t have an answer for the question.

Sessions has dodged testifying at least three times already, and Washington Post has published 40 questions they would ask the attorney general. It’s possible Sessions will be asked not only about Trump’s firing of Comey, but of his firing of U.S. Attorneys, after Preet Bharara gave an interview to ABC on Sunday in which he said Comey’s firing felt like “déjà vu,” and maintained there is sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into obstruction of justice by the president.

The New York Times reported last week that Trump is “discontented” with Sessions, and that Sessions had “offered to resign in recent weeks, as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job.” It remains to be seen whether Sessions will show Trump the loyalty that the president so badly wants.

Further Reading:

Who Is Christopher Wray, Trump’s Nominee for FBI Director?

True to form, President Donald Trump announced his nominee for the new FBI director via Twitter Wednesday morning. If his pick — Christopher Wray, an alumnus of the Justice Department under George W. Bush who currently works at D.C.-based law firm King & Spalding — is confirmed by the Senate judiciary committee, he will enter into a politically fraught scene in which two of his former colleagues are major players.

So who, exactly, is Christopher Wray?

As the New York Times reported, Wray is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School who worked as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta before joining President Bush’s Justice Department as an associate deputy attorney general in 2001. CNN reported that Wray was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2003 to lead the DOJ’s criminal division, where he oversaw major investigations, including the one into Enron, as well as the government’s response to terrorism after 9/11. He left in 2005 to join King & Spalding.

Given that timing, it’s unsurprising that a search for Wray’s name in the American Civil Liberties Union’s torture database turns up 83 search results, including a fax he sent regarding Iraqi detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. (The documents are almost all entirely redacted.)

Over at Wired, Garrett Graff offers some insight into Wray, particularly during his time at the DOJ:

“We all recognized that the old paradigms wouldn’t work. In some cases there weren’t any rules at all,” Wray told me just a few years after he left the Justice Department. It was also a time of unprecedented pressure.

“Every time the pager went off, every time the phone rang, you thought, ‘We’re moments away from being attacked again,’” Wray told me. “You had no idea when or where it was coming.”

It would be interesting to learn what Wray thinks of how ISIS has changed the rules. As Graff notes, if Wray is confirmed, he will be “confronting new critical threats, like cyber, that were barely on the horizon during his last stint in government.”

Because of his time at Justice, Wray has a relationship with James Comey, his recently and controversially fired predecessor, and Robert Mueller, tapped as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Graff reports that Wray has deep admiration for both men. Mueller led the FBI when Wray was there, and headed the criminal division 15 years prior to Wray doing so. Comey was Mueller’s second-in-command.

He came away deeply impressed on a daily basis by Mueller. “If you’re in law enforcement, your immediate reaction was this is my kind of guy,” said Wray. “Bob Mueller has an uncanny ability to be really dedicated and idealistic about public service without being cheesy or naive.” 

Graff also recounts an incident in early 2004, during which Comey was fighting with Vice President Dick Cheney over an NSA surveillance program Comey believed was unconstitutional. Mueller had Comey’s back, and “rumors had circulated of a mass resignation of the department’s senior-most leaders,” Graff writes. Wray apparently pulled Comey aside in a hallway and told him, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you.”

Comey ultimately took his concerns directly to Bush, who agreed to change the program. 

“For Wray, the episode was a signal lesson in the necessary independence, moral compass, and leadership necessary to succeed at the Justice Department.

‘[Mueller] has a strong moral compass and I think that the great thing about strong moral compasses is that they don’t have to hand-wring, Wray told me years later. ‘When they’re uncomfortable, they know what they have to do.’”

The Times describes Wray as “a safe, mainstream pick from a president who at one point was considering politicians for a job that has historically been kept outside of politics” who “is likely to allay the fears of F.B.I. agents who worried that Mr. Trump would try to weaken or politicize the F.B.I.”

According to the Times, Wray apparently “bonded” with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when they were both at the Justice Department. He also represented Christie in the recent Bridgegate scandal, in which Christie got off scot-free while two of his deputies were sentenced to federal prison. (A third pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.) “He managed to soothe and counsel the volatile Mr. Christie, a Trump ally,” the Times reported.

Christie told the Bergen Record last week that the president “certainly would not be making a mistake” if he tapped Wray to lead the FBI. “I have the utmost confidence in Chris. He’s an outstanding lawyer. He has absolute integrity and honesty,” Christie said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (whom Trump is apparently not happy with these days) also highlighted Wray’s “integrity” in a statement that concluded, “We have found our man.”

Wray has a connection to another controversial figure for Trump: Sally Yates. CNN noted that Wray signed a 2015 letter to the Senate judiciary committee from partners at his law firm endorsing Sally Yates’ nomination as deputy attorney general for her “extraordinary legal skill and judgment.” Trump fired Yates and accused her of “betrayal” because she would not carry out his travel ban.

While Wray investigated white collar crime while at Justice, CNN noted that since joining the private sector, he “has represented a slew of Fortune 100 companies that have been the subject of state and federal investigations.” He currently chairs King & Spalding’s Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, according to CNN.

Both the Times and CNN reported on Wray’s contributions to political campaigns. The Times prefaced the disclosure by saying Wray “is not known as a partisan,” though his donations have been to Republican candidates, including $2,300 to John McCain in 2008 and $7,500 to Mitt Romney in 2012. He did not make any donations to presidential campaigns in 2016, according to the Times, which calculated a total of $35,000 in donations to Republican candidates and committees over the past decade. CNN totaled $53,350 in donations in the same time period, including to his law firm’s political action committee and the National Republican Senatorial committee in 2016.

While detractors are highlighting Wray’s work for Christie, his competitors for the post as FBI director have been quick to praise him. Former assistant attorney general Alice Fisher, who followed in Wray’s footsteps at the criminal division and was under consideration by Trump to lead the Bureau, told CNN and the Times Wray is a “wonderful choice… who cares deeply about the institution.” Notably, in light of recent reports about Trump’s tumultuous leadership, Fisher told CNN that Wray “will provide even-keeled leadership.”

For those wondering about Wray’s thoughts on the position, the most interesting tidbits come in his own words, as reported by Graff in Wired. According to Graff, Wray once told him the ideal FBI director “is tough but fair and unfailingly honest,”  and that the position of FBI director “has got to be one of the toughest jobs in government. There aren’t too many humans who could ride out that kind of stress and punishment and not let it get them down.”

Further Reading:

Donald Trump As Bad Contractor

Most people who have lived through a renovation know the hallmark of a bad contractor. Those renovation survivors probably bristle at the words “two weeks.” Your completely gutted kitchen? It’ll be ready in two weeks. The nursery for your child due in a month? Two weeks, tops. The roof of the house you’re waiting to move into? Definitely done in two weeks, no sweat.

A good rule of thumb to remember, for those who have managed to escape this experience: it’s never, ever two weeks.

Bear that in mind as you read Toluse Olorunnipa’s Bloomberg Politics story, “In Trump’s White House, Everything’s Coming in ‘Two Weeks.’” Olorunnipa chronicles the many occasions on which President Donald Trump has vowed to deliver on a promise, projected a two-week deadline and missed it by a mile (or by 11 weeks, or 15 weeks), and smartly places the tactic in context using Trump’s own words from his book, The Art of the Deal.

Read the story

Cookie Tasting with Trump’s Billionaire Backer

Star shaped cookies with red, white, and blue icing

At Politico, Sara Dickerman samples Trump mega-donor Rebekah Mercer’s cookies. That’s not a metaphor — Mercer owns the bakery Ruby et Violette and “is viewed as the major player in her family’s political patronage, which includes ownership stakes in Breitbart News and data mining service company Cambridge Analytica.”

I have rarely come across so many white chocolate confections in a bakery (see their Instagram celebration of the substance here). It’s tempting to take a big haymaker at white supremacist politics amid all these white chunks: Just imagine Jeff Sessions nibbling at an all-white chocolate assortment of cookies as he tells big-city police departments to stop worrying about racial bias. The truth is, however, that there is a place for white chocolate in baking, which is to sweeten and offset other flavors when they get to be too intense. The problem is that most of the cookies I tasted are far from intense. In fact, they merge on meekness, like the Lemon White, a fine-in-theory lemon cookie studded with grainy white chocolate chunks. The best lemon desserts toy with you on the edge of astringency, but the lemon flavor here is just an echo of the actual fruit: more like the soft yellow sweetness of lemon Jell-O.

What’s the culinary equivalent of TL:DR, too long, didn’t read? Is it TL:DE? Tastes lousy, didn’t eat?

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If You Think You Understand the Montana Special Election, You Probably Don’t

I’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten the reason for the Montana special election, which takes place today. It’s for a single congressional seat—the state has only one House representative due to its population—which was vacated earlier this year by Ryan Zinke when he was chosen by Trump to become the Secretary of the Interior.

Anne Helen Petersen has been reporting for BuzzFeed from Montana for months, and her definitive feature on the special election is a careful, compassionate, and clever look at the Montana voter—a true political unicorn who won’t be pandered to or told how to vote.

The special election may seem like a tantalizing chance for Democrats to turn a red state blue—56 percent of voters swung for Trump. “But that same election, 50.2 percent also voted for their Democratic governor, Steve Bullock,” Petersen reminds us, and “in 2012, 48.6 percent voted for Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat.”

Read more…

Dwayne Johnson Is Everything Our President Isn’t

Dwayne Johnson smashed through the great wall of news this week, rushing over and lifting us up in a powerful but tender overhead press, carrying us toward the dreamland he lives in where everyone is hardworking, great-looking, and nice as hell.

Bless GQ for sending Caity Weaver on the enviable mission to profile Dwayne Johnson, and for their art department for thinking what we’re all thinking: If a celebrity had to be president, wooing the electorate with charm and charisma, why not elect Johnson, who appears to excel in every area our current president lacks?

Evan Osnos recently reported that “other than golf, [Trump] considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.” A finite amount of energy? Dwayne Johnson is a solar-powered, clean running beast of infinite energy and charisma.

If you are a child, good luck getting past Dwayne Johnson without a high five or some simulated roughhousing; if you’re in a wheelchair, prepare for a Beowulf-style epic poem about your deeds and bravery, composed extemporaneously, delivered to Johnson’s Instagram audience of 85 million people; if you’re dead, having shuffled off your mortal coil before you even got the chance to meet Dwayne Johnson, that sucks—rest in peace knowing that Dwayne Johnson genuinely misses you. For Johnson, there are no strangers; there are simply best friends, and best friends he hasn’t met yet.

Read more…

Yes, We Could, But Can We Now? Reflections on Obama’s Speeches

Americans hear more from our current President on Twitter than we do from his speeches, and it seems better that way. Donald Trump is no orator; he admits he doesn’t even read for pleasure. President Trump’s 140-character tweet style of mass communication—with its em dash misuse, random capitalization, and misplaced exclamation!— might portend the future of American politics in which words don’t particularly matter.

It certainly contrasts greatly with President Obama’s powerful oratory. At The American Scholar, former DOJ speechwriter James Santel reads the newly-published collection of Obama’s speeches, We Are the Change We Seek, to discuss what Obama’s sense of storytelling reveals about him, and how the power of residential speeches can motivate us, set the national tenor, our vision of the future and, as Obama frequently said, define who we are.

Like all good orators, Obama was a storyteller. Among his favorite stories was his own: how the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas rose to become a U.S. Senator. That background opens the speech that made him a national figure, the Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After talking about his parents and grandparents, he said, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story.”

Obama uses his autobiography to argue that his unconventional background did not place him at odds with the American experience, but made him emblematic of it. That case required Obama to offer a particular reading of American history, which goes something like this: Our shared commitment to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the principles set forth in the Constitution has always been more powerful than our divisions and disagreements, allowing our country to slowly “perfect” itself over time (to use a favorite Obama verb). It is a story of steady change and patient progress, of obstacles overcome and common ground discovered, a story in which all people are given equal attention and credit. In it, racism and prejudice are not defining features of the American character, but blemishes upon it, historical aberrations that we have slowly corrected over time. Above all, it is a story that, in one way or another, has always made room for everyone.

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Profile of a Demagogue — No, the Other Demagogue

Yesterday, the President of the United States invited the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House during a routine phone call. Duterte — who has been criticized by international human rights groups for the extrajudicial killings of thousands since his election last year — declined, saying he was “tied up.” Pundits, reporters, and politicians spun over the invitation, voicing the concern that Duterte is not the kind of company an American president should keep.

After reading this 2016 New Yorker profile of Duterte, it’s easy to see why President Trump might think he has something in common with the populist leader across the Pacific.

Duterte thinks out loud, in long, rambling monologues, laced with inscrutable jokes and wild exaggeration. His manner is central to his populist image, but it inevitably leads to misunderstanding, even among Filipino journalists. Ernie Abella, Duterte’s spokesman, recently pleaded with the Presidential press corps to use its “creative imagination” when interpreting Duterte’s comments.

Duterte speaks of drug use as an existential threat, a “contamination” that will destroy the country unless radical action is taken. “They are the living walking dead,” he said of shabu users. “They are of no use to society anymore.” Duterte sees drugs as a symptom of a government’s ineffectiveness, but his animus suggests a personal vendetta. Duterte, who has four children by two women, was asked at a Presidential debate what he would do if he caught his children using drugs. “None of my children are into illegal drugs,” he responded.

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What It Takes to Remove a President Who Can’t Do the Job

The “Goldwater Rule” is a gentleman’s agreement between members of the American Psychiatric Association which “prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated.” It was put in place during the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater after Fact magazine surveyed more than twelve thousand mental-health professionals and found that nearly half of those who responded said the candidate was mentally unfit of office. Read more…