On today's BradCast: Once again, Donald Trump managed to step on a big night for Democrats, with what is turning out to be an unprecedented "break-the-glass-in-case-of-fire" crisis at the U.S. Department of Justice. [Audio link to show is posted below.]
The unspeakably important fight to replace the most dangerous, unfit, authoritarian President this nation has ever seen continued on Tuesday night in New Hampshire, where a pleasantly smooth primary election resulted in a narrow win for Bernie Sanders, with Pete Buttigieg close on his heels yet again, followed by a surprise third place win for Amy Klobuchar. After double-digit percentages for those three, Elizabeth Warren came in a distant fourth, followed by an undoubtedly disappointing fifth place finish for Joe Biden.
The contest also resulted in three candidates dropping out of the race. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet hung it up, as did former MA Governor Deval Patrick (leaving no more African-Americans in the race) and previously unknown entrepreneur Andrew Yang (leaving Tulsi Gabbard, who finished a distance 7th, as the only person of color remaining in the Democratic nominating contest.) Sanders second popular vote victory in two weeks leaves him as the front-runner ahead of Nevada next week, South Carolina the week after, and Super Tuesday in more than a dozen states three days later, where voters will decide how long this contest will run, as several candidates remain more than viable after the two early outings.
We discuss, along with a reminder that all of New Hampshire voted, without apparent problem Tuesday, on hand-marked paper ballots, with citizen volunteers in some 40% of Granite State towns counting those hand-marked ballots by hand, publicly, with everybody watching, no apparent problems or delays, and results announced at each counting location upon completion. We call that Democracy's Gold Standard and thank the volunteers in those NH towns.
Unfortunately, that joyous exercise in public democracy and civic duty was marred by the quickly expanding crisis in Washington D.C. where four prosecutors running the case against Trump confidante Roger Stone, who was recently found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering, abruptly quit the case on Tuesday. One of them resigned from the Dept. of Justice entirely.
That stunning news on Tuesday came after a tweet from Trump, describing the sentencing recommendation as a "miscarriage of justice!", before an announcement by a senior official at DoJ that the line prosecutors' recommendation, based on federal sentencing guidelines, was "extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses."
Further reporting throughout the day --- as Trump continued his Twitter tirade, even attacking the federal judge overseeing Stone's case --- revealed that it was not the only time in recent days that Trump's Attorney General Bill Barr appears to have interceded to soften sentencing recommendations for close friends of Trump found guilty of lying to federal officials during the Robert Mueller Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. NBC News reports that a recently installed Barr apparatchik also changed the DoJ prosecutors' sentencing recommendation for Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn last month. It was originally for 0 to 6 months in prison, but modified last month to nothing more than probation.
And, as all of that was unspooling, Trump pulled his nomination for a top post at the Treasury Dept. for the former U.S. Attorney for D.C., Jessie Liu. As USA, she had overseen Stone's case and a number of others related to the Mueller probe, until she was relieved of that post on the same day that the DoJ changed their sentencing recommendation for Flynn. Liu had been scheduled to answer questions in her Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday for the Treasury post, but that has been conveniently nixed with Trump's withdrawal of her nomination on Tuesday.
We're joined today to discuss these stunning --- and somewhat terrifying --- turns of event by LISA GRAVES, who previously served as Deputy Asst. U.S. Attorney General at the DoJ under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. She is also the former Chief Counsel for Nominations in the U.S. Senate and former Deputy Chief for the U.S. Court system. So, she has quite a bit of insight into many aspects of this. She, like us, is exceedingly disturbed by what one former, longtime DoJ senior official characterized as "a shocking, cram-down political intervention in the criminal justice process," declaring that "We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept."
Graves, who recently founded the new watchdog group TrueNorthResearch.org, echoes that alarm today. "This is really a crisis," she warns. "And it's hard to say that, given that we are in the midst of an ongoing crisis based on what the Republicans in the Senate did this past month and what the President is up to. This is a crisis that is really unparalleled in the modern history of the Justice Department. It's a Constitutional crisis and really an existential crisis, because this is an active assault on the rule of law in this country."
She explains that "this is an absolute, confirmed and repeated breach of the independence of the Justice Department...I'm not sure how it can be fixed, given the fact that the Justice Department has been so corrupted by this President and by his willing hand-maiden, Bill Barr." Graves cites the upcoming election as our only way out, at this point, from "this sort of behavior turning America into a banana republic", before she borrows from the Nixon impeachment proceedings to describe the ongoing events as "a cancer on the Justice Department."
She also shares her thoughts on whether she believes the DoJ itself --- with the words "The place of Justice is a hallowed place" (ironically now?) etched above its door on Pennsylvania Avenue --- can ever be fully repaired after this breach, even after Trump is no longer despoiling the White House...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)