William Barr is ‘the closest thing we have to Dick Cheney’

The New York Times reports:

Not long before Attorney General William P. Barr released the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, he strategized with Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, about one of his next moves: investigating the investigators.

Over a dinner of steak, potatoes and carrots in a wood-paneled conference room off Mr. Barr’s Justice Department office, the two discussed their shared suspicions that the officials who initially investigated the Trump campaign’s links to Russia had abused their powers.

They strongly agreed, Mr. Graham said, that “maybe one of the most important things we’ll ever do is clean up this mess.”

Less than two months later, Mr. Barr began his cleanup with the most powerful of brooms: a presidential order commanding intelligence agencies to cooperate with his inquiry, and sweeping power to declassify and make public their secrets — even if they objected.

The move illustrates Mr. Barr’s swift rise in the pantheon of President Trump’s most prominent and loyal allies — and in the eyes of Mr. Trump himself. In a cabinet stocked with government neophytes and placeholders, the deeply experienced Mr. Barr is quickly emerging as the most influential figure in the second half of Mr. Trump’s term.

“He is the closest thing we have to Dick Cheney,” said Charles J. Cooper, a former senior Justice Department official, referring to President George W. Bush’s unusually powerful vice president. “He is a strong-willed man with a forceful personality” and “well-formed, deeply studied views.” [Continue reading…]

Troubling-to-outright-damning episodes lost in the noise around the Mueller report’s release

Quinta Jurecic writes:

After two years of silence, the special counsel Robert Mueller recently made his first public remarks — to complain, it seemed, that no one had read his report. “We chose those words carefully,” Mr. Mueller said, “and the work speaks for itself.”

But at a dense 440-plus pages, if the report speaks for itself, it takes a great deal of time and focus to listen to what it has to say. Mr. Mueller tells a complicated story of “multiple, systematic” efforts at Russian election interference from which the Trump campaign was eager to benefit. And he describes a president eager to shut down an investigation into his own abusive conduct. This is far from, as the president put it, “no collusion, no obstruction.”

The document is packed with even more details, ranging from the troubling to the outright damning. Yet these have been lost in the flurry of discussion around the report’s release.

Even the most attentive reader could have trouble keeping track of the report’s loose ends and dropped subplots. Here are four of the most surprising details that you might have missed — and none of them are favorable to the president. [Continue reading…]

GOP lawmakers are quietly turning against the death penalty

Madeleine Carlisle writes:

David Welch’s wife died on Christmas Day 2016. He doesn’t remember much of what happened that next year. But in the grips of grief, he came to a fundamental realization, he told me: The death penalty is “just morally wrong.”

Welch has served as a Republican in the New Hampshire state House for more than three decades. For most of that time, he had consistently voted to uphold the death penalty. But after his wife’s death, he came to understand that when the state executes someone, it puts another family through the intense period of mourning he went through. “There is no reason for it,” he told me. “They’re innocent.”

Though law-and-order conservatives have long championed the death penalty, New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states where Republicans like Welch are joining Democrats to push for a ban. Last week, New Hampshire became the 21st state to outlaw capital punishment, one of 11 states this year—including GOP strongholds such as Kansas, Wyoming, Kentucky, and Missouri—where Republican lawmakers have sponsored bills to end the practice. The movement is the result of several political factors, including Republican and Democratic concern over the country’s criminal-justice system. But it’s also been motivated by lawmakers’ personal experiences, just like Welch’s. Death-penalty reform has quietly broken through as a bipartisan issue—one that could portend a shaky future for capital punishment in the U.S. [Continue reading…]

Justice Ginsburg says deep divisions on the way, and Supreme Court watchers look for clues

The Washington Post reports:

When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns reporter, reporters and lawyers start searching for clues.

In a purportedly just-the-facts speech Friday to the judicial conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, Ginsburg gave plenty to dissect.

She teased pending decisions in cases about whether the census may contain a question on citizenship, and if the court would for the first time decide that a state’s electoral maps are so influenced by partisan gerrymandering that they violate voters’ constitutional rights.

Be prepared for sharp disagreements as the court finishes its work this month, she said.

So far, only a quarter of the court’s decisions have been closely divided, she noted. “Given the number of most-watched cases still unannounced, I cannot predict that the relatively low sharp divisions ratio will hold.” [Continue reading…]

Barr is lying about Mueller’s evidence

William Saletan writes:

The final report on the Russia investigation, submitted on March 22 by special counsel Robert Mueller, documents multiple attempts by President Donald Trump to obstruct justice. So why hasn’t Trump been indicted? Because one man stands in the way: Attorney General William Barr. Two days after receiving Mueller’s 448-page report, Barr declared Mueller’s evidence insufficient. Since then, Barr has offered no detailed analysis to support his conclusions. Instead, in hearings and interviews, the attorney general has based his judgment on a series of falsehoods.

It’s time to certify Barr’s declaration as a fraud. No one has cleared Trump. Somebody else—Congress, voters, or a new attorney general—will have to adjudicate Mueller’s evidence.

Let’s examine Barr’s statements about the episodes of obstruction Mueller described. [Continue reading…]

How Trump could be prosecuted after the White House

Renato Mariotti writes:

With Congress enmeshed in a fraught debate over whether to impeach President Donald Trump, Robert Mueller’s brief and dramatic news conference provided a sharp reminder that impeachment is not the only option for addressing the president’s alleged misdeeds.

The outlines of a potential civilian prosecution of a former president Trump are already emerging. While there are reports of tax dodges, illegal campaign contributions, and improper foreign contributions to his inaugural committee—among other things—investigations into those claims are ongoing. There is, however, an overwhelming case that the president engaged in obstruction of justice—his effort to stop the special counsel’s office from probing his campaign’s ties to Russia.

In the second volume of his 448-page report, Mueller sets forth evidence of obstruction of justice that any competent federal prosecutor could use to draft an indictment. And Mueller made it clear himself that his detailed report was intended, in part, to “preserve the evidence” because “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”

Although it’s impossible to know exactly what a prosecution of Citizen Trump would look like, or who would conduct it, it’s already possible to project some paths a likely prosecution would take. In the eyes of a seasoned former federal prosecutor looking only at the evidence we have so far, here are the likely routes—and what Trump has to worry about next. [Continue reading…]

Democrats, in California, confront deep divisions over how to handle increasing calls for Trump’s impeachment

The Washington Post reports:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was just moments into her speech Saturday when a man shouted out from the back of a convention hall stuffed with thousands of delegates to the state Democratic Party convention.

“Impeach Donald Trump!” he screamed, uttering a battle cry Pelosi has rebuffed, despite growing demands from her party’s activist wing.

“President Trump will be held accountable for his actions,” she said. The I-word never left her lips.

Less than an hour later, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) stepped to the same podium to deliver a very different message. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings!” the presidential candidate bellowed. The crowd roared.

The party’s deep divisions, refreshed when last week’s remarks by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III raised new questions about whether Trump had committed impeachable violations, played out time and again during the first full day of the weekend convention as they have across the nation. [Continue reading…]

Kids suing the U.S. over climate crisis are getting global support

Quartz reports:

In 2015, when a group of 21 children and teens first sued the US government over climate change, their claim in Juliana v. US was not totally new—youth in Uganda and the Netherlands had filed somewhat similar environmental suits—but it seemed a little strange. Shouldn’t these kids be playing video games or something, doing pretty much anything but litigating to save the planet?

Now, the plaintiffs in Juliana v. US are part of an increasingly vocal global movement of young environmental activists leading the fight against climate catastrophe, most visible among them Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who has chided world leaders for failing to take action. And they are banding together. In March, Thunberg inspired a worldwide protest, with kids skipping school to make the point that their future is on the line because of climate change. On June 1, youth activists will host nearly 100 coordinated press conferences across the US and worldwide announcing new local actions to fight the climate crisis in a show of solidarity with the American plaintiffs who have a hearing before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 4.

The young Americans, some of whom are now adults, argue that they have a constitutional right to a stable climate that sustains life on Earth. While this right is obviously not enumerated in the US Constitution, they say that it is implied by the document. By adopting policies that promote fossil fuel use, leading to the emission of carbon dioxide at rates that change the climate, despite knowing these energy sources are warming the planet, the federal government violates “the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property,” they wrote in their 2015 complaint (pdf). The plaintiffs also contend that the government is failing to protect essential resources held in trust for the public. [Continue reading…]

Good Samaritan faces 20 years in prison for giving food and water to migrants

No president is above the law

Elizabeth Warren writes:

When Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released on April 18, I sat down and read it. All 448 pages of it. I started reading it that afternoon, and I read all through the night and into the next morning. And when I got to page 448, three things were clear to me.

First, a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help candidate Donald Trump get elected. Second, candidate Donald Trump welcomed that help. Third, when the federal government tried to investigate, now-President Donald Trump did everything he could to delay, distract, and otherwise obstruct that investigation.

That’s a crime. If Donald Trump were anyone other than the President of the United States right now, he would be in handcuffs and indicted. [Continue reading…]