Friday, November 24, 2017

Trump's Really Packing Them In

If you want to know why Republicans "deeply concerned" with Trump continue to do nothing about him, it's because he's giving them what they want: permanent control of the American government for a generation.  Having gerrymandered state legislatures and the House into oblivion and stolen Merrick Garland's Supreme Court seat, the only remaining task is to stuff the federal courts full of  hundreds of jurists in the mold of current SCOTUS conservatives, seats the Mitch McConnell blocked for years under Obama.  And frankly, there may be nothing that Democrats can do to stop it.

Conservatives have a new court-packing plan, and in the spirit of the holiday, it’s a turducken of a scheme: a regulatory rollback hidden inside a civil rights reversal stuffed into a Trumpification of the courts. If conservatives get their way, President Trump will add twice as many lifetime members to the federal judiciary in the next 12 months (650) as Barack Obama named in eight years (325). American law will never be the same.

The “outer turkey” in the plan is the ongoing Trumpification of the courts. In the final two years of Obama’s presidency, Senate Republicans engaged in tenacious obstruction to leave as many judicial vacancies unfilled as possible. The Garland-to-Gorsuch Supreme Court switch is the most visible example of this tactic but far from the only one: Due to GOP obstruction, “the number of [judicial] vacancies . . . on the table when [Trump] was sworn in was unprecedented,” White House Counsel Donald McGahn recently boasted to the conservative Federalist Society.

Trump is wasting no time in filling the 103 judicial vacancies he inherited. In the first nine months of Obama’s tenure, he nominated 20 judges to the federal trial and appellate courts; in Trump’s first nine months, he named 58. Senate Republicans are racing these nominees through confirmation; last week, breaking a 100-year-old tradition, they eliminated the “blue slip” rule that allowed home-state senators to object to particularly problematic nominees. The rush to Trumpify the judiciary includes nominees rated unqualified by the American Bar Association, nominees with outrageously conservative views and nominees significantly younger (and, therefore, likely to serve longer) than those of previous presidents. As a result, by sometime next year, 1 in 8 cases filed in federal court will be heard by a judge picked by Trump. Many of these judges will likely still be serving in 2050.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Enter the next element of the court-packing turducken: a new plan written by the crafty co-founder of the Federalist Society, Steven Calabresi. In a paper that deserves credit for its transparency (it features a section titled “Undoing President Barack Obama’s Judicial Legacy”), Calabresi proposes to pack the federal courts with a “minimum” of 260 — and possibly as many as 447 — newly created judicial positions. Under this plan, the 228-year-old federal judiciary would increase — in a single year — by 30 to 50 percent.

Never mind that Republicans saw no urgency in filling judicial vacancies while Obama was president. Never mind that they ignored pleas from conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to fill positions in courts facing “judicial emergencies.” Now, conservatives want a 30 to 50 percent increase in the number of federal judgeships. And they have a clear idea of who should fill this massive number of new posts: “President Trump and the Republican Senate will need to fill all of these new judgeships in 2018, before the next session of Congress. 

And believe it or not, it gets even worse.

Calabresi has also proposed that Congress abolish 158 administrative law judgeships in federal regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Securities and Exchange Commission, and replace these impartial fact-finders with a new corps of 158 Trump-selected judges who — unlike current administrative law judges — would serve for life.

These new Trump administrative law judges would have vast power over environmental, health and safety, fair competition, communications, labor, financial and consumer regulation for decades. Unlike the existing administrative law judges, selected as nonpartisan members of the civil service, Calabresi’s replacement corps would all be picked in a single year, by a single man: Donald J. Trump.

If this sounds like the beginning of a permanent single-party autocracy, that's because it is.  Even the best-case scenario out of this would be a rollback of a century of progressive values, and the end of the civil rights era.  In short, even if it's not a "Trump dynasty for life" dictatorship, it'll still be a complete and total victory for the GOP.

Keep in mind this process has already started.  Trump judges are being appointed and confirmed in assembly line fashion.  Even if Trump is somehow removed from office, the GOP gets 99% of what they will want from him, and they will have the power to crush progressives for a lifetime.

Good thing we didn't elect that Hillary bitch though, right?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

There were a couple of developments yesterday that certainly ruined the Trump family's Thanksgiving plans, and frankly I hope Donny and friends lost quite a bit of sleep, after all, he had a long day of golfing and not destroying America on Thursday ahead of him.  First up, our old friend Paul Manafort has much more extensive connections to the Russians than previously disclosed (I know. Surprise!)  Turns out he's been deep in Putin's pocket for close to a decade.

Political guru Paul Manafort took at least 18 trips to Moscow and was in frequent contact with Vladimir Putin’s allies for nearly a decade as a consultant in Russia and Ukraine for oligarchs and pro-Kremlin parties. 
Even after the February 2014 fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, who won office with the help of a Manafort-engineered image makeover, the American consultant flew to Kiev another 19 times over the next 20 months while working for the smaller, pro-Russian Opposition Bloc party. Manafort went so far as to suggest the party take an anti-NATO stance, an Oppo Bloc architect has said. A key ally of that party leader, oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, was identified by an earlier Ukrainian president as a former Russian intelligence agent, “100 percent.” 
It was this background that Manafort brought to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which he joined in early 2016 and soon led. His web of connections to Russia-loyal potentates is now a focus of federal investigators. 
Manafort’s flight records in and out of Ukraine, which McClatchy obtained from a government source in Kiev, and interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with his activities, including current and former government officials, suggest the links between Trump’s former campaign manager and Russia sympathizers run deeper than previously thought. 
What’s now known leads some Russia experts to suspect that the Kremlin’s emissaries at times turned Manafort into an asset acting on Russia’s behalf. “You can make a case that all along he ...was either working principally for Moscow, or he was trying to play both sides against each other just to maximize his profits,” said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state who communicated with Manafort during Yanukovych’s reign in President George W. Bush’s second term.

“He’s at best got a conflict of interest and at worst is really doing Putin’s bidding,” said Fried, now a fellow with the Atlantic Council. 
A central question for Justice Department Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and several congressional committees is whether Manafort, in trying to boost Trump’s underdog campaign, in any way collaborated with Russia's cyber meddling aimed at improving Trump’s electoral prospects. 
His lucrative consulting relationships have already led a grand jury convened by Mueller to charge him and an associate with conspiracy, money laundering and other felonies – charges that legal experts say are likely meant to pressure them to cooperate with the wider probe into possible collusion

I bet that particular prospect is keeping Donny up nights.  But I bet it's only half as angina-inducing as the fact that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn has almost certainly flipped.

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating such a deal
Mr. Flynn’s lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. 
That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation. 
The notification alone does not prove that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with Mr. Mueller. Some lawyers withdraw from information-sharing arrangements as soon as they begin negotiating with prosecutors. And such negotiations sometimes fall apart. 
Still, the notification led Mr. Trump’s lawyers to believe that Mr. Flynn — who, along with his son, is seen as having significant criminal exposure — has, at the least, begun discussions with Mr. Mueller about cooperating.

Lawyers for Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump declined to comment. The four people briefed on the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The Washington Post is backing up this Times story so whether or not Flynn has anything worthwhile is still unknown to anyone but Flynn and Mueller, but as the Times says, Flynn is at least willing to give up somebody up the chain, and there's not a whole lot of people higher than him that aren't Trump, ya know?

Happy Thanksgiving, you turkey.
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