Thursday, November 17, 2022

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Remember, Trump's Russian collusion has always been true, and now it's a legal and criminal fact.

A Republican political strategist was convicted of illegally helping a Russian businessman contribute to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Jesse Benton, 44, was pardoned by Trump in 2020 for a different campaign finance crime, months before he was indicted again on six counts related to facilitating an illegal foreign campaign donation. He was found guilty Thursday on all six counts.

Elections “reflect the values and the priorities and the beliefs of American citizens,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Parikh said in her closing argument this week. “Jesse Benton by his actions did damage to those principles.”

The evidence at trial showed that Benton bought a $25,000 ticket to a September 2016 Republican National Committee (RNC) event on behalf of Roman Vasilenko, a Russian naval officer turned multilevel marketer. (Vasilenko is under investigation in Russia for allegedly running a pyramid scheme, according to the Kommersant newspaper; he could not be reached for comment.) The donation got Vasilenko a picture with Trump and entrance to a “business roundtable” with the future president.

Vasilenko connected with Benton through Doug Wead, an evangelical ally of the Bush family who was also involved in multilevel marketing. Vasilenko sent $100,000 to Benton, who was working for a pro-Trump super PAC at the time, supposedly for consulting services. Benton subsequently donated $25,000 to the RNC by credit card to cover the ticket.

Witnesses from the RNC and the firm hired to organize the event said they weren’t told Vasilenko was a Russian citizen. Benton said in an email to his RNC contact that Vasilenko was “a friend who spends most of his time in the Caribbean”; he described Vasilenko’s interpreter as “a body gal.” In fact, according to the testimony, Benton and Vasilenko had never met.

Benton argued that he followed the advice of his previous counsel, David A. Warrington, who has also represented Trump. Warrington testified that Benton contacted him at the time to ask if he could give a ticket to a political fundraiser to a Russian citizen. Warrington said he told Benton “there is no prohibition on a Russian citizen receiving a ticket to an event” and that “you can give your ticket that you purchased to a fundraiser to anybody.”

Prosecutors said Benton failed to tell Warrington that he was getting reimbursed by the Russian citizen for the donation. Benton asked for the advice only “to cover his tracks,” Parikh said.

Benton also claimed that he earned the $100,000 acting as a tour guide in Washington for Vasilenko, whose interest was not politics but self-promotion.

Wead — who died at age 75 last December after he was indicted with Benton — had previously discussed with Vasilenko the possibility of a photograph with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama or Steven Seagal before suggesting Trump.

“If Oprah was available,” defense attorney Brian Stolarz said in his closing argument, “we wouldn’t even be here.”
Oprah of course isn't subject to campaign finance laws involving illegal money from Russian oligarchs buying political access to the Oval Office.
Again, the Russian collusion was always real. Trump should be disqualified from office, indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced.

Nancy, Steny, Jim, Hakeem And The Animal House Remake

Republicans have secured 218 House seats to secure control of the lower chamber of Congress, and will probably end up at 221 or 222 (in a dark mirror of the Dems' current 222-213 margin) when the smoke clears and the dust settles. As such, current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced she's stepping down from Democratic leadership.
Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, who helped shape many of the most consequential laws of the early 21st century, said Thursday that she will step down after two decades as the Democratic Party’s leader in the chamber.

“With great confidence in our caucus I will not seek re-election to Democratic leadership in the next Congress," Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor.

Pelosi was speaker from 2007 to 2011 and returned to the top job in 2019. She announced her decision just a day after NBC News and other news outlets projected that Republicans had flipped control of the House in last week’s midterm election, sending Pelosi and the Democrats back to the minority.

More personally, just weeks ago, her husband of nearly 60 years, Paul Pelosi, survived an assault by a hammer-wielding intruder at the family’s home in San Francisco.

Pelosi won't be leaving Congress after winning her 19th term last week. She is expected to remain, at least temporarily, given the GOP’s razor-thin majority.

As Pelosi took the mic, the chamber was packed with Democratic lawmakers, while the Republican side of the aisle was largely empty — a symbol of how politics have changed over Pelosi’s three and a half decades in the House. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did not attend the speech in person, but House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was present. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., crossed the Capitol to watch Pelosi speak, while the front row on the Democratic side of the chamber was filled with fellow female lawmakers from California.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) announced Thursday they will remain in Congress next year but won’t seek a leadership position, joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who had announced the same decision moments before.

The surprise development clears the way for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the current chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, to jump several rungs up the leadership ladder to replace Pelosi in the next Congress, when Republicans will take control of the lower chamber.

In a letter to fellow Democrats, Hoyer said he’s proud of his work in leadership, but “now is the time for a new generation of leaders.” He quickly endorsed Jeffries, who faces no other challenger.

“I look forward to serving as a resource to him, to the rest of our Democratic leadership team, and to our entire Caucus in whatever capacity I can best be of assistance as we move forward together to address the nation’s challenges,” Hoyer wrote.

Hoyer, a 42-year veteran of Capitol Hill, said he intends to return to the powerful Appropriations Committee — a post he had held before joining leadership — to work on issues including education, health care and efforts to boost domestic manufacturing.

“I also look forward to continuing my focus on voting rights, civil rights, and human rights which I have made priorities throughout my public life,” he wrote. 
The torch is being passed to a new generation in the House Democratic caucus.
But voters having handed control of the House over to the GOP, Republicans are focusing on the important issues to the American voter, like Hunter Biden's laptop and shutting the government down in order to force Medicare and Social Security cuts.

Although House Republicans will still face a Democratic White House and Senate aimed at blocking their legislative aims, McCarthy — who is working feverishly to cement his ascension to speaker despite growing discontent in his ranks — has already made it clear the party plans to launch investigations into the Biden administration and at least one of the president’s family members.

But McCarthy and other leaders will have their hands full as they try to keep their wafer-thin majority united and corral conservative bomb throwers who are clamoring to shut down the government and impeach President Joe Biden and his top allies.

"The era of one-party Democrat rule in Washington is over. Washington now has a check and balance. The American people have a say in their government," McCarthy, flanked by his new leadership team, said Tuesday after he won his race to be the party's nominee for speaker.

Here’s what the new 118th Congress will look like under House GOP rule:

Investigations will dominate the new Congress, from the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and allegations of politicization at the Justice Department to America's botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. But none will attract as much attention as the GOP’s planned investigation into the business dealings of the president’s son Hunter two years before a potential Biden re-election bid.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming Oversight Committee chairman, has said an investigation into Hunter Biden and other Biden family members and associates will be a priority as Republicans try to determine whether the family’s business activities “compromise U.S. national security and President Biden’s ability to lead with impartiality.”

Republicans allege that Hunter Biden has used his father’s successful political career to enrich himself: He joined the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company in 2019, and an investment firm he co-founded helped a Chinese firm buy a Congolese cobalt mine from a U.S. company in 2016, among other financial endeavors. 
Get used to James Comer making Kentuckians look like fools, America.

The Marriage Of Church And State

The good news is that the Senate easily beat a Republican filibuster on a federal same-sex marriage bill. The bad news it easily passed a filbuster because the Senate GOP knows that when the Roberts Court inevitably reverses Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriages will be left up to the states like abortion is in a post-Dobbs era. Slate's Mark Joseph Stern:

Congress is on the brink of enshrining marriage equality into federal law by passing the most consequential gay rights measure in history. On the brink of this victory, however, there’s still a great deal of confusion over what, exactly, the bill does—and some debate among progressives about whether it’s even worth supporting. The short answer is that this measure, the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), is worthy of not just support but celebration: It repeals a bigoted federal statute while creating a crucial backstop for marriage equality in the states if the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges. As recently as 2015, it would’ve been unthinkable that such a sweeping bill could pass into law.

What the RFMA does not do is “codify” Obergefell, as many media outlets have inaccurately reported. So it’s worth delving into the details to understand precisely how this landmark legislation operates. Keep in mind that its central provisions will only become relevant if the Supreme Court overturns its marriage equality decisions. The RFMA will benefit same-sex couples if, and only if, SCOTUS overrules the right to equal marriage.

Start with the easy part: The RFMA repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. It replaces DOMA with a requirement that the federal government recognize any marriage that was “valid in the place where entered into.” So if a same-sex couple obtains a valid marriage license from any state, the federal government must recognize their union.

The Supreme Court found DOMA unconstitutional in 2013’s U.S. v. Windsor, but that decision is on thin ice today. It relied on an expansive definition of “liberty” that the Supreme Court largely repudiated when overturning Roe v. Wade. Right now, Windsor would also be vulnerable to a Republican president eager to roll back gay rights. More than 1,000 federal laws grant rights and privileges to married couples, and the Obama administration aggressively applied Windsor to as many of them as possible. That means important benefits involving health care, immigration, labor, military service, taxes, Social Security—pretty much everything—are currently extended to same-sex couples by executive mandate.

It would be all too easy for a future Republican president (say, a hypothetical President Josh Hawley) to direct his administration to withdraw this mandate. A Hawley administration could purport to limit Windsor to its facts, refusing to apply its reasoning to the entire federal code—just like Republican judges are currently refusing to apply the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Bostock beyond the Civil Rights Act. In the process, a President Hawley could test Windsor’s continued vitality at our hard-right Supreme Court. (The Trump administration provided a preview of this tactic when it unsuccessfully tried to discriminate against the children of binational same-sex couples.) Far better for Congress to preempt such backsliding by wiping DOMA off the books for good, declaring that same-sex couples must receive every right and privilege of marriage granted by the federal government. And that’s precisely what the RFMA does.

Turn now to the second prong of the bill: Its requirement that every state recognize a valid same-sex marriage. It’s this provision that has upset some progressives, because it does not go as far as Obergefell. In that decision, the Supreme Court directed every state to license same-sex marriages—that is, to issue a marriage certificate to same-sex couples. The RFMA does not codify this component of Obergefell. Instead, it directs every state to recognize every same-sex marriage that “is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into.”

So the RFMA does not force Texas to issue a marriage certificate to a same-sex couple. But it does force Texas to recognize a marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple by New Mexico. In a post-Obergefell world, a same-sex couple in Texas could drive to New Mexico, obtain a certificate, and force Texas to respect their marriage like any other.

Why did Congress draw a distinction between licensing and recognizing marriages? Because it wanted to remain on firm constitutional ground, and that’s is as far as the Supreme Court could plausibly let it go. Time and again, the court has ruled that the federal government cannot “commandeer” states to enforce federal laws or pass specific statutes. If Congress compelled states to license same-sex marriages, the judiciary would invalidate the law as a violation of this anti-commandeering doctrine.

The federal government’s authority to make states recognize same-sex marriages, by contrast, is extremely well-established, and very likely to be upheld. That’s because the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause gives Congress the power to make states grant “full faith and credit” to the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” of other states. As I explained in July, Congress has repeatedly used this authority to command nationwide uniformity in family law. For instance, it has ordered every state to grant full faith and credit to custody determinations and child support orders issued by another state. There is no constitutional reason why Congress could not also order each state to grant full faith and credit to a valid marriage license held by a same-sex couple. Even a Supreme Court willing to overturn Windsor and Obergefell would probably affirm this power.

Making states recognize same-sex marriages from out of state will "probably" be upheld when the Roberts Court trashes Obergefell. That's as good as we're going to get in this shameful era of SCOTUS.
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