Our guest today, the former U.S. House Judiciary Committee's longtime General Counsel warns on today's BradCast, that we are already in the midst of a Constitutional Crisis and that what is happening now is far worse than anything he ever encountered during his many years in that post, even during the then-unprecedented corruption of the George W. Bush Administration. [Audio link to full show is posted below.]
But first up today, some good news and bad for voters before 2020 out of two key battleground states. In Ohio, the good news is that a three-judge panel of federal judges on Friday unanimously found the Buckeye State's Congressional maps to be an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" and has ordered, via its 301-page ruling [PDF], for new maps to be drawn for use before the 2020 elections. The panel of two Dems and one Republican-appointee determined that the state's GOP-led legislature packed the majority of the state's Democratic voters into just four districts after the 2010 Census to guarantee Ohio's Congressional legislation would retain a 12 to 4 GOP advantage. Republicans have successfully held 75% of that delegation over the past decade despite receiving just more than half of the state's Congressional votes.
State Republicans vow to appeal, as the nation awaits next month's opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court on similar partisan gerrymandering cases in North Carolina and Maryland. A three-judge federal panel last week in Michigan similarly ordered new maps there before 2020 after finding GOPers in that state used a similar tactic to disenfranchise voters. Unconstitutional GOP partisan gerrymanders were also determined by federal courts to have been in place in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for the past decade.
The bad news for voters today comes from Florida today, where the state's GOP-dominated legislature has adopted a bill to undermine Amendment 4, the landmark ballot measure voters adopted by nearly 65 percent last November to restore voting rights to some 1.5 million former felons in the state who had completed their sentences as well as all parole and probation. Passed along party lines, state lawmakers changed the definition of sentencing to include the payment of all court-imposed fines and fees. The result: Those former felons who have money will be able vote, those who do not, won't. Once signed by the state's Republican Governor, as expected, lawsuits will almost certainly be filed by voting rights advocates to challenge the new law that appears to rewrite Amendment 4 which had ended Florida's shameful lifetime ban on voting by former felons, including more than 20 percent of the state's African-American population.
Next, we are looking for answers today about what is happening and what may come next as the Trump Administration and its new Attorney General and "fixer" William Barr harden their obstruction of all Constitutional oversight by Congressional Democrats. We are joined today by attorney TED KALO, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, where he served as General Counsel for his last 10 years there before leaving for private practice in 2011. Our conversation comes on the heels of Barr's astonishing testimony before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and his refusal to appear before the Democratic-majority House Judiciary on Thursday. That, after the Dept. of Justice's failure to respond to a Wednesday subpoena deadline from the House panel to turn over a full, unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report and its underlying evidence, and after revelations that Barr appears to have lied to Congress in previous testimony concerning Mueller's view of Barr's public representation of the report's conclusions during the month before Barr finally released a redacted version.
Kalo tells me what is likely to happen next if Barr misses a final Monday deadline, offered in a good faith, last attempt letter sent by House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler on Friday in hopes of avoiding contempt proceedings against the nation's top law enforcement official.
The reason why Barr supposedly skipped Thursday's House hearing was because the Committee had determined to allow staff counsel from both parties to question the Attorney General along with members, which Kalo says is "not unusual at all". He cites, for example, a similar practice carried out by Republicans "during one of the many investigations of Hillary Clinton's emails," and notes that it is "not uncommon historically" for Congressional committees to use staff attorneys for questioning witnesses.
Kalo details the two possible legal paths should Barr, as expected, continue to refuse to cooperate with the Committee and is found in contempt, including a civil litigation path in federal court, which could take months or years to resolve (though Kalo says there are grounds for courts to hear these matters on an expedited basis) or Congress finding Barr in "inherent contempt". In the latter case, he explains, the House Sergeant-at-Arms could be dispatched to arrest and detain the Attorney General. (Kalo also offers a definitive answer about the jail long said to be available at the Capital Building for such matters.)
"While it's frustrating as hell to watch this play out --- it's so obvious what's going on in plain sight --- as a matter of the goal of getting the information, Congress has to proceed cautiously because of its limited options for enforcing subpoenas," Kalo tells me. Therefore, he explains, Nadler is "bending over backwards to show that he tried his hardest to reach an accommodation with the Executive Branch, with an eye towards future litigation" where the court will see the Administration as "recalcitrant and unreasonable" and find in favor of the Dems.
Among the many other questions answered and/or explained by Kalo, he offers insight into my concerns about whether many of the long-established court precedents that appear to make Trump's legal arguments to block a number of subpoenas look ridiculous could actually be overturned by Trump appointees to the federal bench or even the GOP's stolen majority on the Supreme Court. "I think you're right," he says. "We have a federal judiciary that's been packed by people who start with the political result they want and then work the legal reasoning backwards. I think it's a valid fear that the courts won't follow longstanding precedent," before adding optimistically, that he believes the courts will follow precedent in many of these matters.
I also get his thoughts on Barr's remarkable testimony before the Senate on Thursday, arguing that a President has a legal and Constitutional right to shut down or obstruct a federal investigation looking into his own potential crimes if the President believes, on his own, that he has been unfairly accused. Yes, Barr actually made that argument under oath this week. Kalo calls the theory "ridiculous" and says, "I know of no legal authority for what the Attorney General was saying, and it defies reason." He goes on to explain why.
Finally, he concludes with a chilling note. "It can't be understated that we're in a Constitutional crisis. We're trying to respond to things that we never expected to occur from a President of the United States," Kalo argues, adding that, as dark as those years were when he served as General Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the George W. Bush years, what is happening now is worse --- "by far."
I wholeheartedly recommend you tune in for today's complete conversation, as there was much more than I am able to adequately summarize here...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)