Guest: FSFP Legal Director Ron Fein; Also: Jan 6 Comm. homes in on members of Congress; House COVID Comm. faces off with Trump official; Trump judge rejects Trump tax case against Congress...
A whole lotta Trump Accountability News going on all at once again on today's BradCast. Too slowly, to be sure, but going on nonetheless. Even if not (yet) at the DoJ. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
On Monday night, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously to refer criminal contempt charges to the Dept. of Justice for Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. During their hearing, Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) read a number of texts from Fox "News" personalities and from Don Jr., sent to Meadows during the hours the Capitol was under attack after Trump incited the riot in his last gasp effort to steal the 2020 election. The messages were pleas to get Meadows to convince Trump to call it off. Those same Fox personalities would soon go on the air and pretend that "antifa" was behind the deadly assault. The texts prove they knew otherwise and, according to Cheney, serve as more "evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes" when he failed to act while the U.S. Capitol was under assault by domestic terrorists.
Committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA) shared several damning text messages from unidentified members of Congress that were sent to Meadows as well, noting that, due to the ongoing investigation, the lawmakers were not being named "at this time." Separately, Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said those names would eventually be made public, as the Contempt referral for Meadows also referenced several "members of Congress" who participated in phone calls and White House meetings to help strategize before the eventual bloody insurrection.
Meanwhile, another House Select Committee investigating the coronavirus crisis may be heading toward separate contempt charges against former Trump official and prominent COVID denier, Peter Navarro. He says he cannot cooperate with that Committee's probe because Trump gave him a "direct order" not to, claiming Executive Privilege (which former Presidents do not have), and that because of it, "this matter is out of my hands."
"Trump's supreme dereliction of duty" in 2020 is unspeakable in many cases, but it's only part of his unspeakable legacy and a seemingly unending list of criminal culpability.
But never mind 2020. Some good government groups are still seeking accountability for the 2016 campaign that put the disgraced former President into the White House in the first place. Last week, Free Speech for People (FSFP) and the Campaign for Accountability filed suit [PDF] in D.C. federal court against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for failing to take action on a complaint they filed in December of 2016. That complaint alleged unlawful "coordination" between the Trump Campaign and the Russian Federation.
"Even today, despite multiple investigations, critical information about the money spent in the 2016 election is still unknown," said RON FEIN, Legal Director of FSFP, in a statement announcing the new lawsuit. "How much did the Russian Federation spend? When and for which efforts did it make the payments? How much (and which) of that spending was ‘coordinated’ with the Trump campaign? Answering these questions is the FEC’s job, and they’ve sat on it for almost five years."
Now, says Fein, who joins us on today's program, the groups have no choice but to take the FEC to court to force the government's long-dysfunctional federal campaign regulator to investigate the complaint. Fein explains how "coordination" has a very different meaning in campaign finance law than it does in the matters that Special Counsel Robert Mueller looked at in his two-year probe. "Congress passed a law specifying that coordination 'shall not require agreement or formal collaboration,'" he says. "It could be a wink and a nod. Put that into the context of things like Trump saying, 'Russia, if you're listening, I hope you find those emails'," after which Russia attempted to hack the Clinton campaign, and the question of unlawful coordination under campaign finance law becomes plain to see.
"I don't mean this as a personal attack on Mueller or anyone who worked on that team," Fein clarifies, "because they're not campaign finance experts, but they missed an important area of the law that the Federal Election Commission has the authority to investigate, and the obligation to at least make a decision on our administrative complaint that alleged this."
FSFP's "2016 administrative complaint alleged that the Russian government paid for computer hacks, social media posts, and paid political advertisements to influence the 2016 election, and that the Trump campaign engaged in 'coordination' with the Russian government," the group notes in their statement announcing the new suit.
"There were many aspects of what happened in the 2016 election that were extremely troubling, from a legal as well as from a broader, democracy-preservation standpoint," Fein tells me today. "For example, even illegal political spending is required to be disclosed. That's what both the Russian government and the Trump Campaign failed to do. And that's the information that we would have if they disclosed it."
The six member FEC, with three Commissioners appointed by each major party, is notorious for tie votes that end up killing action against campaign finance violations that even the FEC's own staff argues should be pursued. In this case, Fein says, the FEC didn't even hold a vote on their complaint over the past five years. Their lawsuit is meant to force the Commission to hold that vote. If the court orders them to do so and the complaint then fails to receive the necessary four votes to proceed with a full investigation, FSFP can sue the Commission again. It's potentially a long road, but one that could actually be short-cutted.
"Because it takes four votes to do anything in the FEC, if there is not a four-vote majority to appear in court --- this has happened several times recently --- the FEC has simply defaulted," explains Fein. "And then the statute provides --- and this was rarely, if ever, used until just the past year or so --- the statute provides that if there's a default judgement, then the plaintiff can just go ahead and sue the parties that they filed the administrative complaint against directly. In other words, if that plays out that way, then we'd be in a position to sue the Trump Campaign and the Russian government and cut the FEC out of the picture entirely."
Still a long road, but a much shorter one that doesn't rely on the corrupted FEC.
In the meantime, FSFP --- as we discussed with its co-founder and President John Bonifaz early last month --- is continuing its campaign calling for the resignation of Attorney General Merrick Garland for failing to meet the moment in taking action on the endless list of criminal allegations against Trump and his minions before, during and after his Presidency. When I inquire with Fein as to whether the recent criminal Contempt indictments against former Trump lackey Steve Bannon has changed the group's outlook, he notes that, if anything, "the call for Garland to resign is even stronger right now."
You'll need to tune in to find out why.
And then, one more bit of breaking Trump Accountability that came in during today's show, as a Trump appointed federal judge rejected the former President's lawsuit seeking to block House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richie Neal (D-MA) from obtaining Trump's tax records. The ruling is the latest in a roller-coaster legal battle that begin in April of 2019. Trump's Treasury Department refused to turn over the documents to Congress, as required by law. Biden's has agreed to. Trump sued to stop them. Trump now has 14 days to decide if he will appeal.
Finally, we close with Desi Doyen and today's grim Green News Report following the deadly, climate change-fueled tornado swarm that slammed Kentucky and several other states over the weekend. Though she also has some slightly brighter news at the same time, as the Biden Administration reveals its new, electric vehicle charging strategy, made possible by the recent passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill...
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