On today's BradCast: We're gonna need a bigger front page in this country, given all the huge news that only served to cancel out all of the other huge news this weekend. All of which, we suspect, is just the way Donald Trump likes it. But don't worry. The most important news of the weekend --- the first failed attempt and second successful attempt by corrupt U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (likely unlawfully) is the eventual focus of today's show, with our guest, a former Deputy Asst. Attorney General herself. [Audio link to show is posted at end of summary.]
But first, some of that other news that only served to crowd out all that other other news over the weekend. After a few quick words and warnings about tomorrow's primary elections in New York and Kentucky (expect very long lines) and some new news on Los Angeles County's new and already failed touchscreen voting and electronic pollbook system (which we'll have to offer in detail on another day), we take a look at the still burgeoning COVID-19 crisis. Despite Trump's attempts to pretend it away, infection rates are still increasing in at least 23 states, holding steady in 10, and only decreasing in 17 --- if, in fact, it's actually even decreasing in those states. All of this after many states reopened for business far earlier than health experts advised would be safe.
Then its on to Donald Trump's embarrassingly fizzled return to the campaign trail on Saturday, when his campaign's promise of more than 1,000,000 tickets registered for his "Great American Comeback Celebration" rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, turned into just over 6,000 supporters at the indoor venue/coronavirus super-spreader event. The arena was barely half full, if that. Trump was reportedly furious, according to much of the brutal news coverage of his rambling, nearly two-hour remarks on Saturday, during which he admitted that he told his "people, 'Slow the testing down, please!'" Yes, the President of the United States, during a global pandemic, actually ordered his staff to try and test fewer people for the deadly disease in hopes that it might make him look like less of a failure. It has done just the opposite.
It also did not help the 6 members of his own campaign advance team in Tulsa who tested positive for COVID just before the event, or the two that have tested positive since. We should have expected as much from the guy who told reporters last week that "over one million people" were planning to attend and that "we expect to have like a record setting crowd. We've never had an empty seat and we certainly won't in Oklahoma." Even as he boarded the helicopter on the way to the Tulsa event Saturday, he lied to reporters that the "crowds are unbelievable" in Oklahoma. "They haven't seen anything like it." The operative word there is "unbelievable."
All of that, however, helped to obscure the remarkably corrupt and seemingly unprecedented events that took place very late Friday night when AG Barr falsely announced that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Turned out he hadn't, and he said as much in a stunning statement minutes later, declaring that he'd only learned of his own "resignation" via Barr's press release.
Berman, a 2016 Trump Campaign donor and member of his Transition team, said he refused to step down until he was replaced by a Senate-confirmed nominee. Since he was not appointed by the President, but by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (the Senate would have had trouble approving him), he cannot be removed by firing without cause. According to law, a USA appointed by the courts can only be replaced by a Senate-confirmed nominee. Berman's U.S. Attorney's office at SDNY is known for its independence from Main Justice. It has prosecuted allies of Trump and was believed to be investigating more of them, including Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Trump Organization itself. After Berman's brief overnight stand against Barr, he agreed to stand down on Saturday morning, after he said Barr agreed to allow Berman's Deputy to replace him as Acting USA (as is the normal practice), rather than install the U.S. Attorney from New Jersey (as Barr had announced in his false statement on Friday), which is decidedly not normal practice.
Yes, the Barr/Trump authoritarian strongman move is all at least as corrupt and unprecedented as it sounds. Thus, we are joined today by a guest with no small amount of insight into just how wildly corrupt and unprecedented all of this is. LISA GRAVES is a former Deputy Asst. AG at the U.S. Justice Dept., a former Chief Counsel for nominations in the U.S. Senate. She is also a former Deputy Chief for the US Court system. She is now Founder of True North Research, a good government watchdog group "researching the forces distorting our democracy."
Graves describes the Barr/Trump/Berman mess as "a debacle in terms of rule law." Ironic, she notes, coming from a man claming to be running for re-election as the "Law and Order President".
"This all smells. It reeks," she tells me. "It's really a terrible crisis for the Department of Justice, for the US Attorney's office in New York, and for the very rule of law. You cannot have a President who fires people who are investigating him or who are investigating his associates. You have to have a President who is as far away as possible from even appearing to interfere in that sort of investigation or any investigation that might touch on him."
As to what can be done about it and whether or not Barr actually broke the law himself with his initial attempt to remove Berman --- and whether Trump actually fired him on Saturday morning, as Barr contends (only to be contradicted by Trump himself) --- and who would prosecute Barr if, in fact, he did violate the law...well, you'll have to tune in to find out what Graves says about all of that and whether we will ever be able to restore justice to the Department of Justice after Donald Trump is eventually gone...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)