This may be the first time during Donald Trump's young presidency that we probably should've had two Garbagevilles in one week. We're not sure what we would've called the second one (Rubbishtown? Trashburg?), but we'll take nominations. In the meantime, on with the show.
Well, Isn’t That Special
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of former FBI head Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election. Of all the bombshells, scandals, boneheaded moves, and gaffes in this administration — still not even 150 days old! — this is the most consequential. It signals a level of seriousness about the investigation that even Trump can’t deny; indeed, Trump’s next-day rage-tweeting seemed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, calling the investigation “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" You may quibble with Trump’s historical judgment (as did the congressional representative from Salem, Massachusetts), but at least Trump seems to realize the Russia investigation isn’t “fake news” anymore — it may have real consequences.
Of course, opinions are divided about what those consequences may be! Count us among those skeptical of charges of outright collusion between Trump and the Russians. (It's not like Putin paid him money or anything, LOL, see below.) However, it's Trump's behavior since the investigation began that has caused the most concern (cover-up > crime). Trump may have brought the special counsel on himself by firing former FBI head James Comey and then linking his dismissal directly to the Russia investigation! Between increasing evidence of Russia making contact with Trump minions and Trump's own sketchy behavior, this week marked the first time that Republican lawmakers have mentioned the i-word ("impeachment") in the context of this president.
Should I pay attention to this?
Yes, you should be paying attention to this … and get ready to be paying attention to it for a long time. Special counsel investigations move with notorious hesitancy, one reason why some of the president’s supporters reportedly greeted this news with relief: Mueller is said to be both incredibly deliberate in his actions and closemouthed about his opinions, so he may (eventually) put an end to the hourly breaking-news cycle of leaks and revelations that’s characterized the Trump presidency thus far.
However, that relief might be overestimated or misplaced. Mueller’s appointment did not end this week’s torrent of scoops: Just hours after we learned of the appointment, we heard even more about the details of what he’ll be be investigating, namely that the White House knew former national security adviser Michael Flynn was under FBI scrutiny before he was appointed; that he flip-flopped on Turkey policy after he was hired to lobby for the country; and that he used his position in the Trump transition team to head off a military operation against Turkey. Also, Flynn was one of several Trump campaign officials to engage in what became 18 different previously undisclosed contacts with Russian agents between April and November 2016.
So, uh, yeah, pay attention.
The Russia Scandal Is a Joke to House Republicans, Apparently
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” That’s something you might expect to hear from a liberal pundit on cable news who has gone off the rails, or perhaps a family member ranting about the president. Despite the mounting evidence of Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials, this is barbershop talk. It isn’t something you’d expect to hear from a Republican, let alone the House majority leader, let alone on tape.
After his office initially denied that he ever said that about Trump in June of last year, Kevin McCarthy claimed on Wednesday that he was joking when he told a group of fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill privately that Putin was paying Trump and Dana Rohrabacher, his fellow congressman from California who has long been a defender of Putin’s regime. According to the recording obtained by the Washington Post, the comment came in the context of a conversation about Russia and Ukraine, and made everyone in the group laugh. House Speaker Paul Ryan then jumped in to say “NO LEAKS” before dropping some Godfather-like talk: “This is how we know we’re a real family here … What’s said in the family stays in the family.”
Should I pay attention to this?
Yes, for one specific reason. McCarthy, known for loose lips, may have very well been joking, but that’s alarming in and of itself. This conversation took place a month before Trump clinched the Republican nomination. At the very least, the House Republicans' lack of alarm is palpable. Keep in mind: All of these guys were up for reelection last year, too. If this is something Republican lawmakers were laughing about at the time, it suggests that they were not only comfortable running alongside a compromised candidate at the top of the ticket, but were also happy to reap the benefits of the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee. That’s worth noting as we hear them express “concern” and “worry” about the president’s increasingly ridiculous behavior. At a time when liberals were warning about the danger of a Trump victory and foreign interference in our elections, they thought the whole thing was funny.
One Less State Suppressing Black Votes, For Now
When it comes to systemic racism, intent should typically take a backseat to effect. But North Carolina’s 2013 discriminatory voter-ID law was blocked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last summer because it purposefully sought to reduce African-American voter turnout. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court didn’t necessarily signal agreement with that conclusion, but it did refuse to hear arguments from Republican petitioners about the case, leaving the circuit court decision intact.
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court didn’t necessarily agree with the lower court's decision, because Chief Justice John Roberts signaled to the vote suppressors in North Carolina that they should be smarter next time. Echoing what he said back in January when rejecting an effort to restore a draconian voter-ID law in Texas, Roberts wrote this week that a “blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law” prevented the Supreme Court from taking up the case. North Carolina just elected a Democratic governor to replace its Republican one, and that led to the state withdrawing support for the law, and the petition to contest its blocking by the circuit court. That’s Roberts blaming technicalities, not morality. For him, the substance of the law was not in question.
Should I pay attention to this?
Roberts’s coded language reportedly heartened the GOP members of the state legislature, who issued this statement after the ruling: “Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the commonsense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote.” That’s crap, of course, and is as much doublespeak nonsense as President Trump’s new “election integrity” commission. Rather than drop the racism and try to sell their failed ideas to African-American voters, Republicans will continue their efforts to suppress our votes. Why? Because it shows results.
Pew Research reported this week that in the 2016 election, the first in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act — thanks to the Roberts Court — black voter turnout dropped for the first time in 20 years. Yes, there are any number of factors that prevent people from getting to the polls, including weather, work, and illness. But that doesn’t excuse the deliberate Republican effort to make it more difficult for certain communities to have a voice in this democracy. So, hell yes, you should pay attention to this.
For more on this topic, listen to the MTV News interview with former U.S. Senate candidate and Let America Vote founder Jason Kander, the former top elections official in Missouri.
The Right to Bear Ears
This week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Utah's Bear Ears National Monument, the country's newest national monument, to gather information about whether it should remain as such. Obama gave Bear Ears the status and the protections that come with it in the final days of his presidency, which some Native American activists saw as a small but needed secondary validation that their movement extends beyond the events at Standing Rock. (Bear Ears has the highest density of Native American archeological and cultural sites in the country, and tribespeople still gather plants and herbs there.)
Should I pay attention to this?
Yes, and not just because Trump has targeted around 20 other national monument sites for decommission, alarming outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists alike. The larger gesture was seen as a sop to developers and natural resource refiners. But reviews of those monuments are scheduled to be completed in August, while Bear Ears' review is due June 10. No one is really sure why Trump has targeted Bear Ears for special treatment. One theory: He just hates Obama that much. Another: It's a way to gain the support of Utah's Republican congressional delegation, who all opposed making Bear Ears a monument — and whose constituents were notably cool to Trump. They are just the kind of Republicans who, in theory, could be convinced to join Democrats in demanding oversight of the president with an appeal to principled conservatism … but who also might be bought off by an appeal to stop conserving.