On one of the ugliest political days in recent memory (and they are likely to get still uglier --- and deadlier, as Trump launches a military attack against Syria moments ago), we fight our way on today's BradCast, out of the slime to look beyond the near horizon for how progressives can change structural impediments in our political system, just as soon as Democrats are able to regain majorities in both Congress and the White House. [Audio link to full show is posted below.]
But first, we wade into the swamp long enough to cover Donald Trump's stunning pardon on Friday of former Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, a felon who was found guilty of having lied to federal investigators and obstructing justice after purposely leaking the highly classified identify of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to the media during the run up to the Iraq War. That, as an enraged Trump took to Twitter on Friday to tar former Republican FBI Director James Comey as a "LEAKER & LIAR" and "slime ball" following the release of his new book.
The "procedural proposals", as he describes them, include, among other things: statehood ("on Day 1") for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico (and breaking California into several smaller states); transformation of our federal judiciary (by, among other things, doing away with lifetime tenures on the federal bench and a forced restoration of a Democratic majority on the Republican's stolen Supreme Court); and restructuring the U.S. House for proportional representation to help overcome the scourge of extreme partisan gerrymandering. All of which, Faris takes pains to note, can be done without the daunting task of amending the U.S. Constitution, and, as he argues, would be no more radical than ideas that Republicans have both been instituting for decades and plan to implement in the near future, unless they are prevented from doing so.
"Most of the ideas in this book I consider a process of rectifying existing injustices in our electoral system and our political processes, and then responding in kind to some of these Republicans escalations --- partly to convince the Republican Party that some of the things they are doing are deeply destructive, and that they will lead to retaliation," Faris tells me. "I think they are assuming things like holding a Supreme Court seat open for Neil Gorsuch will not get a reply from the opposition."
"Part of the purpose of the book," he continues, "is to outline a series of ideas that are actually the right thing to do. I don't consider them to be 'fighting dirty'. I think it will be perceived as fighting dirty, but I actually really believe in all these ideas as improving the long-term performance of our democracy overall."
Faris argues that "Democrats have to take some of these procedural issues and these electoral issues much more seriously. I think they need to take them as seriously as they take their policy proposals, and their intra-party battles over what the party's stance should be on certain issues. Because the reality is in national politics, in every election for the last twenty years, the Democrats have been fighting at a really significant disadvantage, due to things like felon disenfranchisement laws, like gerrymandering, like voter ID laws. And if they don't seriously rethink some of these things, they may come back to power in 2020, but they're going to kick it right back in 2022, or 2024, or 2026. Because these long-term structural barriers to progressive power are very poorly understood by the broader public. And, in all cases, they are an affront to the spirit of small-d 'democracy' as it should be practiced, and as it is practiced in most of the rest of the world."
I hope you'll tune in for the detailed discussion (and debate) on a number of Faris' fascinating proposals for reform on today's program --- and why it is that Democrats have shied away from them for too long --- before we then head back into Trump's swamp for a few more minutes at show's end.
Among those slimy stories to close out the week: The U.S. Senate confirms Andrew Wheeler as second in command to embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Wheeler was, until his nomination late last year, a very powerful coal industry lobbyist and will now take charge of the EPA if Pruitt is pushed out.
And, finally today, wealthy Trump and George W. Bush donor Elliot Broidy steps down as the RNC's deputy finance chair after revelations that he paid a Playboy playmate $1.6 million to keep quiet about an affair in which she was reportedly impregnated and had an abortion. The man who set up the hush money payoff for Broidy? Donald Trump's personal attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen, whose office and residences were raided at the beginning of the week in relation to, among other things, virtually identical schemes to prevent adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal from revealing their own affairs with Trump in the days just before the 2016 Presidential election...
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Though the clemency granted by George W. Bush to the criminal I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for his part in illegally covering up the investigation into the unprecedented White House outing of a covert CIA asset, was reprehensible, Bush showed admirable restraint in his issuing of Presidential pardons on his way out the door.
There! Never let it be said we couldn't come up with something positive to say about his reign! Took us eight years, but there ya go. Even a broken clock is right at least once every eight years.
By way of underscoring his nearly once-in-a-lifetime apparently (accidentally?) good judgment, it's worth noting that many of Bush's supporters (such that there still are any) are pissed off that he hadn't issued a full pardon for Libby before leaving:
According to conservative columnist and Cheney biographer Stephen F. Hayes, writing in the Weekly Standard, "Bush's decision not to pardon Libby has angered many of the president's strongest defenders. One Libby sympathizer, a longtime defender of Bush, told friends she was 'disgusted' by the president. Another described Bush as 'dishonorable' and a third suggested that refusing to pardon Libby was akin to leaving a soldier on the battlefield."
Hayes quotes Cheney himself as saying, "...Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."
Waytago, Decider! You finally did something right!
Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have subpoenaed notes of an FBI interview with George Bush and Dick Cheney in the Oval Office on June 24, 2004, about their role in the unmasking of a CIA anti-WMD program administered by Valerie Plame:
The subpoena follows a June 3 letter from committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman to Attorney General Mukasey, asking for the documents and a June 11 response from Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Keith B. Nelson [who declined the request due to "separation of powers" issues.
Waxman requested the transcripts of the FBI interviews earlier this month, after publication of Scott McClellan’s tell all memoir revealing Bush administration deception. A transcript of Cheney’s interview would be of particular interest because his former aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was the only official convicted of a crime in relation to the Plame probe.
Libby told the FBI that it was “possible” Cheney instructed him to leak Plame’s name, Waxman wrote in his initial letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
The question appears to be, if Bush and Cheney lied to McClellan, did they also lie to the FBI that June morning. Lying to the FBI is illegal, even if the subjects are not under oath.
Scott McClellan has previously said he'd be "happy" to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Looks like he's about to get his chance. On June 20th. Unlike Karl Rove, who said he'd similarly be happy to tell his story (on the Siegelman affair) to Congress, we suspect McClellan will actually keep his word.
This just in from Conyers' office...
For Immediate Release: June 9, 2008
Conyers Invites McClellan to Testify June 20th
(Washington, DC)- Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) invited former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to testify before the Committee at a June 20th hearing about reported efforts to cover up the role of the White House in the Valerie Plame leak as described in his recent book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception.
I have extended an invitation to Mr. McClellan to testify before the Judiciary Committee after discussions between Committee staff and his attorneys, said Conyers. In his book, Mr. McClellan suggests that senior WhiteHouse officials may have obstructed justice and engaged in a cover-up regarding the Valerie Plame leak. This alleged activity could well extend beyond the scope of the offenses for which Scooter Libby has been convicted and deserves further attention. A copy of Chairman Conyers' letter is attached.
The letter referred to above is just a single paragraph invitation, and largely restates the above.
In brief, I became known to some as the "Diebold Whistleblower" when, in January of 2004, I stole and exposed legal documents [PDF] proving that Diebold Election Systems, Inc. was using and planned to continue using illegal, uncertified software in their California voting machines. (By the way, Diebold recently changed its name to Premier Election Solutions, but don't let that fool you; it's still the same bunch of idiots.) Details about my case can be found here and here [PDF].
The documents I stole were covered under attorney-client privilege, so my theft was a serious crime. In February of 2006 I was charged with three felonies. On November 20, 2006, I plead guilty to one felony count of unauthorized access to a computer, and in exchange for my guilty plea and a restitution payment of $10,000 to the law firm from which I stole the documents, the law firm promised they wouldn't bring a civil suit against me, and I was put on felony probation instead of being sent to jail. The term of probation was to be at least one year, and as much as three years.
Now, one year after my guilty plea, because I've stayed out of trouble and because I'm a first offender, the judge has reduced my felony to a misdemeanor. Sometime in 2008, my lawyers will petition the court to have my misdemeanor expunged.
The bad part is that the most troublesome aspect of my probation is still in force. Before I can accept a job at which I would use a computer networked to one or more other computers (basically any job for which I'd be qualified), any potential employer must write to the judge in my case, tell him that they know about my conviction and that they still want to hire me, and then we have to wait until the judge responds with a "yes" or a "no" before I can accept the job and start work (and then only if the judge says "yes"). So as you can see, employers will be falling all over themselves to hire me.
Meanwhile, my wife (an actor, filmmaker and writer) certainly hasn't lost her sense of humor. She had been calling me Felonious Punk, but now that I'm no longer a felon, she's switched to Mister Meanor. Ain't it great being married to a comedy writer?
To be clear, breaking attorney-client privilege is a very serious crime, and I accept responsibility for what I did. I'm still being punished for it, and so far the punishment has cost my wife and me over $210,000 - and counting. $210,000 is an enormous amount of money to us. My wife and I have paid and are continuing to pay a very high price for my crime.
But, as we're not Republicans, we might have expected that.
Which got me thinking about other crimes in America that have recently been committed or alleged, and what's happened to those involved. Among the first of many, Lewis "Scooter" Libby comes to mind...
Yesterday we reported that in an excerpt from his upcoming book on his years as Bush's press spokesman, Scott McClellan wrote that, in 2003, when he exonerated Scooter Libby and Karl Rove of any involvement in the leak of the secret identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, he had unknowingly lied. "And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."
Today, predictably, McClellan's publisher is trying neuturalize McClellan's claim that Bush was in on the conspiracy to deceive:
Peter Osnos of PublicAffairs, told MSNBC that Mr. McClellan "did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him" about two senior aides’ roles in leaking the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. operative, to the conservative columnist Robert Novak and others in 2003.
Right. Except that is precisely what he wrote in the excerpt. Here's how Osnos squares the circle:
"[Bush] told him something that wasn’t true," Osnos told Bloomberg News, "but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true," And: "The president told him what he thought to be the case."
The title of former Bush flak Scott McClellan's new book, "What Happened" brings to mind the title of O.J. Simpson's recent allegedly fictional memoir, "If I Did It."
Perhaps it's because both books seek to exonerate their authors from much deserved guilty verdicts --- both in the court of public opinion and in courts of law, certainly in O.J.'s case, and maybe even for Scotty too.
The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.
There was one problem. It was not true.
I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself.
And this was not just run of the mill political spin. Rove, Libby, Ari Fleischer and others, including Colin Powell's righthand man Richard Armitage, leaked the secret identity of a CIA agent whose specialty was tracking WMD. And they did it at the behest of the vice president who eagerly jeopardized state secrets for the tawdriest of purposes: to do political damage to the agent's husband, Joe Wilson, because he had dared to expose a lie told by the president in his 2003 State of the Union speech about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger.
The CIA, of course, can't reveal how many illegal weapons were successfully transported into the Middle East or how many foreigners acting as U.S. agents were permanently sidelined --- or captured or killed --- as a result the treasonous act of outing Agent Plame by George Bush, Dick Cheney and their henchmen.
Only Armitage has expressed regret about the leak.
Scott McClellan shredded his credibility for Bush, Cheney and the rest. Surely he can't expect anyone to believe he is telling the truth now when he claims he was misled by these same people. He is either the most gullible person to walk the planet, or he thinks the rest of us are fools.
Yes, her outing led to a still-classified CIA damage assessment and "serious" consequences" to other members of her CIA intelligence network.
No, despite Bush's promise, no one has ever been held accountable for leaking her identity in the first such outing of a covert CIA operative by agents of the U.S. Government itself.
No, Bush "is not a man of his word," as Valerie Plame Wilson told 60 Minutes tonight in her first broadcast network interview. Here's the video in two parts...
Some of what Plame is still not allowed to say, including details about "being taken hostage and subjected to torture for two days," is covered by her former CIA colleague, Larry Johnson, right here...
So what did the White House do about it? Johnson tells us...
When the White House learned of these threats they sprung into action. They beefed up Secret Service protection for Vice President Cheney and provided security protection to Karl Rove. But they declined to do anything for Valerie. That was a CIA problem.
Valerie contacted the office of Security at CIA and requested assistance. They told her too fucking bad and to go pound sand. They did not use those exact words, but they told her she was on her own.
Guest Blogged by BRAD BLOG's D.C. Correspondent, Margie Burns
It was a big day on Thursday in the national capital, with several flaming surges hitting the news at once – the Washington Post hooking up with the MSM campaign to put “Hillary” over the top before the magic deadline of October 15 (more on that later, elsewhere); Rep. Henry Waxman and the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee holding a powerful hearing on Iraqi corruption; the blocking of Hans von Spakovsky's nomination to the FEC; and discussion of a proposed federal shield law for journalists (full text of bill here), which was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to the full Senate.
While I was able to sit in for hearings on two of the items above, space and time regrettably being constraints, I'll cover only the proposed shield law for the moment. Right up top, I have to say that I have qualms about it. A real leak, by a whistleblower exposing a crime or some danger to the public, is one thing. But protecting journalists from exposing a politically motivated ‘source’ trying to plant misinformation is another. This bill, as it was debated in committee and written about in papers yesterday, might equally protect both, if it protects either...
These are interesting times. A short update on the most recent legal motions in the Libby case:
As we know, in a Grant of Executive Clemency on July 2, George W. Bush commuted all prison terms for I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. The grant states that it leaves “intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence.”
What with Libby not having served any time, Judge Walton, the trial judge in the Libby case, ordered input from prosecution and defense on the question of whether there could be any “release” – and consequently any “supervised release,” i.e. probation.
First response came from Fred Fielding, Esq., now Counsel to the President. Fielding was the man who helped Nixon negotiate the shoals of the Watergate investigation --- speaking of no jail time --- concluding with Nixon’s resignation followed in short order by a presidential pardon even without a conviction – and, according to Nixon and then-President Gerald Ford, without even a request for a pardon. One sees why Fielding would be welcome aboard the current White House.
Guest Blogged by BRAD BLOG D.C. Correspondent Margie Burns
Looking into the combination high-level and shadowy backstory of Marc Rich, pardoned unpardonably by former President Clinton on the latter’s last day of office, will throw further light on the longterm Libby-Cheney relationship.
While this little item below went rapidly down the memory hole, back in early 2001 (very early) the incoming Bush administration made little noise (very little, very quickly ceased) about revoking Rich’s pardon. No public emphasis by the administration that Libby, the new chief of staff for Cheney and Special Assistant to Bush, had recently been Marc Rich's attorney for twelve years.
Golly, there sure are a lot of Right Wingers out there using Bill Clinton's pardons as reason to say that it's okay that Bush has commuted four felony convictions of the lying covert CIA-operative outer Scooter Libby.
"Clinton did the same thing when he pardoned Marc Rich and so many others," proclaim the Neo-Apologists.
"Where were you when Clinton committed perjury?" they ask (failing to note that he was never actually convicted of a crime, and, in either case, was said to have lied about a sexual matter in a civil case, versus a matter of national security in a criminal case).
In either case, we wonder when one of our brave media anchors will ask the obvious follow-up to one of these clowns. Namely, "Does this mean you now support Bill Clinton's use of pardons? Do you now believe that it was okay for Clinton to lie during a deposition?"
Seems to us they can't have it both ways. If it was wrong for Clinton to lie during a civil suit investigation, and wrong for him to let convicted criminals off the hook with pardons, then it is wrong for Libby to lie (to a grand jury) during an criminal investigation and for Bush to let him off the hook for it.
The Scooter Libby Wingnut Talking Points, however, don't seem to go that many levels deep. Perhaps that's because the Neo-Apologists know that a well thought-out response to the Libby Debacle is not really necessary, seeing as how nobody on the teevee will likely ever bother to ask them such a seemingly obvious follow-up question to their lock-step, sound-bite-crafted response to Bush's commutation.
It's hard to imagine a counterpoint to Scooter Libby's criminal case more apt and revealing than the case of Victor Rita, a North Carolina veteran who was convicted by the feds of lying under oath about buying an illegal machine gun.
Both Rita and Libby were convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in federal cases. Both were sentenced to around 30 months in jail. Both sentences were appealed, and Bush officials at the highest levels were involved in the appeals as they played themselves out in the past few months.
In their appeals, both Rita and Libby sought leniency based on their records of public service and current circumstances. Victor Rita served in the Marine Corps for 25 years, including tours of duty in Vietnam and Gulf War I. He is now advanced in age and in failing health. As a result of his crimes, he has reportedly been wiped out financially.
George W. Bush described Scooter Libby's career in public service as "exceptional," but a review of Libby's bio reveals him to be a neocon bureaucrat who held a series of political positions in Republican administrations before moving up to the White House with Cheney and Bush --- where he was either a witness to or a participant in skullduggery and shenanigans the half of which we don't yet know. Libby is in his late 50s, appears to be in good health, and was able to pay his $250,000 fine out of his checking account, probably with the help of a defense fund set up by powerful Republicans friends like Fred Thompson and Mary Matalan.
Earlier this year the appeals by Rita and Libby both took dramatic turns, at which point the similarities between the two cases came to an abrupt end.
Rita's moment came when his appeal was heard before the Supreme Court...
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby.
Bush goes on to mention specifically the only remaining elements of legal punishment, probation and a fine of $250,000.
Now it looks as though even these two residual sanctions on Libby may turn out to be nonexistent.
On July 3 (yesterday), Judge Reggie B. Walton, the trial judge, issued a new order in the Libby case. Noting that probation appears to be defined by law as "supervised release after imprisonment" and that the president had commuted all of Libby's imprisonment, the judge said that the law,
does not appear to contemplate a situation in which a defendant may be placed under supervised release without first completing a term of incarceration.