Thursday, January 4, 2018

Last Call For The Injustice Department

Three big stories on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump Department of Injustice today, first, the AG is rescinding a 2013 DoJ policy on marijuana and is now leaving prosecution of state legalized pot (both medical and recreational) up to individual US attorneys.

In a seismic shift, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce Thursday that he is rescinding a trio of memos from the Obama administration that adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, according to a source with knowledge of the decision
While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law. 
The main Justice Department memo addressing the issue, known as the "Cole memo" for then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole in 2013, set forth new priorities for federal prosecutors operating in states where the drug had been legalized for medical or other adult use. It represented a major shift from strict enforcement to a more hands-off approach, so long as they didn't threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and cartels. 
The memo will be rescinded but it's not immediately clear whether Sessions will issue new guidance in its place or simply revert back to older policies that left states with legal uncertainty about enforcement of federal law. 
The decision had been closely watched since Sessions was sworn in. He told reporters in November he was examining a "rational" policy.

That policy is now "Whatever the US attorney for the federal district wants to pursue" which could indeed lead to massive raids of state-legal pot shops and state-licensed growers across the country.  I would suspect the first targets would be in blue states like California rather than say, Arizona or Montana but then again many of the states that do allow pot are pretty blue.

So far, Congress has put an amendment in appropriations bill that prevents the Justice Department from spending money on busting people in states where pot is legal.  Ohio has a medical marijuana bill on the ballot in 2018, and Kentucky has long been trying to do the same.  But if that amendment in appropriations goes (and Sessions has asked for that) I'm guessing this will have a big effect on that vote if feds start raiding dispensaries as "major drug-related financial crimes" and whatnot.

And speaking of feds raiding, that brings us to story number two, as I predicted earlier this week, the gap between Trump's "lock her up" tweets and Justice Department prosecution is rapidly closing. BUT HER EMAILS, THE REVENGE!

Justice Department officials are taking a fresh look at Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state
, The Daily Beast has learned. 
An ally of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is familiar with the thinking at the Justice Department’s Washington headquarters described it as an effort to gather new details on how Clinton and her aides handled classified material. Officials’ questions include how much classified information was sent over Clinton’s server; who put that information into an unclassified environment, and how; and which investigators knew about these matters and when. The Sessions ally also said officials have questions about immunity agreements that Clinton aides may have made. 
A former senior DOJ official familiar with department leadership’s thinking said officials there are acutely aware of demands from President Donald Trump that they look into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state—and that they lock up her top aide, Huma Abedin
For instance, Trump tweeted on Dec. 2, “Many people in our Country are asking what the ‘Justice’ Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and ‘acid washed’ 33,000 Emails? No justice!” 
The former official said tweets like this present two challenges for department leadership: looking into the matter in a way consistent with normal Justice Department approaches, and trying to avoid the appearance that they are trying “to put Huma in jail.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment for this story. 
It’s an open question as to whether Justice Department officials would have the same level of interest in Clinton’s server without a political directive from the White House, the former official said.

So Sessions is going after pot, and he's going after Trump's political enemies, and it's just Day 4 of 2018.  Both are instances where Republicans are going after political enemies, in this case Clinton and California.

But then again, Sessions may not be around much longer, as we get to the third story.

Republican Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should step aside "now," citing the Justice Department's handling of the investigation into President Donald Trump's campaign ties to Russian operatives and intelligence leaks to media as key concerns with his performance. 
In a joint opinion piece published in the Washington Examiner, Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman and former chairman, respectively, of the influential conservative House Freedom Caucus, decried the "manufactured hysteria" over the probe into Russian election interference, faulting Sessions — who has recused himself from the inquiry — for allowing revelations about the investigation to reach the press.

Meadows and Jordan said that "in spite of the constant headlines, rampant speculation, and overshadowing of accomplishments, a simple truth remains: There is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians." 
The two GOP lawmakers also questioned why the Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently did not interview George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, until January 2017. A New York Times report published over the weekend said Papadopoulos was aware of Russian intelligence on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, which played a key role in the bureau opening a probe in July 2016 into Russian efforts to influence the U.S. elections. 
"If Sessions can't address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now," the two GOP lawmakers wrote.

Going after Sessions from the right like this for failing to stop Mueller is pretty awful, the GOP has finally learned that the best way to get Trump to do something is raise enough of a stink to get it on FOX and Friends in the morning for him to watch.

This will certainly make the list.

Gonna be a long, long year.

The Mind Of Trump

At long last Congress is starting to ask serious questions about Trump's mental fitness for the position of Chief Executive of the United States and invoking the 25th Amendment as a possible solution.

Lawmakers concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state summoned Yale University psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee to Capitol Hill last month for two days of briefings about his recent behavior. 
In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, Lee briefed lawmakers — all Democrats except for one Republican senator, whom Lee declined to identify. Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”

In an interview, she pointed to Trump “going back to conspiracy theories, denying things he has admitted before, his being drawn to violent videos.” Lee also warned, “We feel that the rush of tweeting is an indication of his falling apart under stress. Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency.” 
Lee, editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which includes testimonials from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessing the president’s level of “dangerousness,” said that she was surprised by the interest in her findings during her two days in Washington. “One senator said that it was the meeting he most looked forward to in 11 years,” Lee recalled. “Their level of concern about the president’s dangerousness was surprisingly high.” 
The conversation about Trump’s fitness to serve is ongoing — and gaining steam after Trump’s tweet this week taunting the leader of North Korea with my-nuclear-button-is-bigger-than-yours bravado. 
“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” the president wrote online Tuesday night. 
The tweet resuscitated the conversation about the president’s mental state and the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of the president from office if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet deem him physically or mentally “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

I'm not a mental health professional by any means (although the Zandarparents both are.)  I've been around dementia and mental decline enough to recognize it in family.  Trump doesn't look well physically or mentally, and for even one GOP senator to attend a meeting on the President's health is something significant.

How far a 25th Amendment plan would go, I have no idea.  It's never been done and it would take the agreement of the Vice President plus the majority of the Cabinet to deem Trump unfit under Section 4 of the amendment, something that I don't see happening.

Still, the issue is that Trump isn't fit for the office for a number of reasons, and keep in mind that in many ways Mike Pence would be worse.

The End Of The Voter Suppression Commission, But Not The Fight

I've talked about Trump's Voter Suppression Commission throughout 2017, the efforts by the GOP to create a national voter ID standard and database that would force all states to implement onerous rules to restrict voting as much as possible and disenfranchise millions, possibly tens of millions of poor, elderly, and college voters across the country, mostly Democrats. 

The commission, headed by VP Mike Pence and Kansas GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was designed to force states to hand over all voting data to Trump so that the regime could design national legislation to disenfranchise Democratic voters across the country.  But even red states told Kobach to go to hell, first blue states said no way, then red states admitted that the Russians had compromised our election process and decided handing stuff over to Trump was unacceptable.  When it became clear that the effort was about massive voter suppression of Democrats through a federal Jim Crow background check voting law, it became too much for even the GOP to handle. Even red states refused to drop their lawsuits.

And yesterday evening, Trump quietly pulled the plug on Kobach's commission.

President Trump on Wednesday abruptly shut down a White House commission he had charged with investigating voter fraud, ending a brief quest for evidence of election theft that generated lawsuits, outrage and some scholarly testimony, but no real evidence that American elections are corrupt.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump called for requiring voter identification in a pair of Twitter posts because the voting system “is rigged.” “Push hard for Voter Identification!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Trump did not acknowledge the commission’s inability to find evidence of fraud, but cast the closing as a result of continuing legal challenges.

“Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry,” Mr. Trump said in a White House statement on Wednesday.

“Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action,” he said.

In fact, no state has uncovered significant evidence to support the president’s claim, and election officials, including many Republicans, have strongly rejected it.

The fight is far from over however.

But Mr. Kobach insisted in an interview that the commission’s work would not end but rather would be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, one of the federal agencies charged with ensuring election integrity and one that he said critics would find more difficult to target.

As a White House commission, the voter-fraud panel was subject to public-disclosure requirements and other restrictions that Mr. Kobach said opponents of the inquiry had seized on in “a determined effort by the left” to hamstring its investigation. At last count, he said, the panel faced at least eight lawsuits accusing it of ignoring various federal requirements, including one from a commission member, Matthew Dunlap, the Maine secretary of state, that claimed he had been illegally excluded from its deliberations.

“It got to the point where the staff of the commission was spending more time responding to litigation than doing an investigation,” Mr. Kobach said. “Think of it as an option play; a decision was made in the middle of the day to pass the ball. The Department of Homeland Security is going to be able to move faster and more efficiently than a presidential advisory commission.”

Kobach at least will be busy running his campaign for Kansas Governor to replace GOP Gov Sam Brownback, so we may have dodged a bullet for now.  But this isn't going to go away.  I'm betting the goal now is to have voter suppression tactics come down as Homeland Security directives. How quickly that can be accomplished, well, we'll see.

The commission is done, but not the war on voting.  Trump tweeted about the need for national voter ID laws again today, and the effort to protect voting access cannot let up.

We still have a long fight ahead.


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