Whitaker: I have ‘not interfered’ with Mueller investigation
By ERIC TUCKER and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Friday, February 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.
The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.
Whitaker, even while expressing exasperation at the questioning of Democrats, nonetheless sought to assuage their concerns by saying he had never discussed with Trump or other White House officials special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He told lawmakers that there had been no change since his arrival in the job in the “overall management” of Mueller’s investigation and that he has been faithful to the Constitution and to the law.
“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.”
His frustration was evident as he repeatedly insisted that he would not discuss his conversations with the president and implored lawmakers to focus on the more conventional work of the Justice Department, not just the Mueller investigation.
In a comment that drew audible gasps and chuckles, Whitaker addressed the committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, by saying, “Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes are up.” That referred to the time limits for questions — one normally addressed by lawmakers, not witnesses.
But Nadler, who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party’s focus.
“You decided that your private interest in overseeing this particular investigation — and perhaps others from which you should have been recused — was more important than the integrity of the department,” said Nadler, of New York. “The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?”
Republicans derided the hearing as political theater especially since Whitaker may well be in his final week on the job. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, called it a “dog and pony show” and criticized Democrats for releasing derogatory information about Whitaker’s business dealings hours before the hearing.
“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming,” he said. “It’s becoming a show.”
Whitaker laid the groundwork for a likely tussle with Democrats by saying in his opening statement that while he would address their questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with Trump.
“I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency — just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch,” Whitaker said.
He said that he has run the Justice Department to the best of his ability, with “fidelity to the law and to the Constitution” and had never given any promises.
Whitaker is likely in his final days as the country’s chief law enforcement officer because the Senate plans to vote soon on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general.
Whitaker’s highly anticipated testimony had been in limbo after the Democratic-led committee approved a tentative subpoena to ensure that he appeared and answered questions. Whitaker responded by saying that he would not come unless the committee dropped its subpoena threat.
The stalemate ended Thursday evening after the committee chairman, Nadler, said the committee would not issue a subpoena if Whitaker appeared voluntarily.
Democrats said they would inquire about Whitaker’s past business dealings, too. Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company’s alleged fraud.
Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers and has been under investigation by the FBI.
Whitaker had been chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced from the Cabinet last November as Trump seethed over Sessions’ decision to step aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Whitaker was an outspoken critic of the investigation before arriving at the Justice Department in 2017.
Trump insists there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.
Socialism Is More Popular Than You Think, Mr. President
Most surveys show Trump would lose in a matchup against a democratic socialist named Bernie Sanders.
By John Nichols
February 6, 2019
Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address did not feature a musical soundtrack. But, if it had, surely the orchestral accompaniment would have soared when he got to the line: “We are born free, and we will stay safe. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
But, just as surely, the music would have quieted down as the camera shifted to the assured countenance of newly elected US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who was elected last fall after campaigning as “an educator, organizer, Democratic Socialist, and born-and-raised New Yorker running to champion working families in Congress; or that of US Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who won her 2018 primary and general election races as a member of Democratic Socialists of America and was endorsed by DSA’s muscular chapter in the Detroit area. And the music would have stopped when it got to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is often referred to as “America’s best-known socialist,” and whom a lot of people would like to see challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
The president might have wanted the joint session of Congress, and the American people who bothered to listen in, to believe that “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence—not government coercion, domination and control.”
But every recent national poll of prospective 2020 voters has Sanders, the democratic socialist, beating Trump, the socialism basher.
A PPP survey released January 22 had it Sanders 51 to Trump 41. That was an improvement on the nine-point lead a PPP survey gave the senator last June.
When CNN polled prospective 2020 voters last year, it was Sanders 55 to Trump 42.
In the battleground state of Michigan, which Trump narrowly won in 2016, a new Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll has Sanders leading by 11 points.
A PPP survey of North Carolina voters, which was conducted last month, put Sanders ahead 48-45 in another state that the Republicans won in 2016.
Sanders has not announced that he will challenge the president. But the senator, who won 23 primaries and caucuses as a contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, generally polls near the top of the Democrats and independents who will judge the wide field of 2020 Democratic prospects. (He’s behind former vice president Joe Biden but ahead of all or most of the other announced and prospective candidates.)
Biden often polls a point or so better against Trump than does Sanders in hypothetical matchups for a 2020 general election contest. But Sanders tends to run better than other Democratic prospects.
So it doesn’t seem like the “s” word is dragging the senator down.
Perhaps that is because, while Trump may think “socialism” is a scare word, and while many prominent Democrats may get scared when it is referenced, Sanders is comfortable discussing the ideology. “Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word,” says Sanders.
On Tuesday night, the senator trumped Trump’s “born free… stay safe” rhetoric with a simple observation: “People are not truly free when they can’t afford health care, prescription drugs, or a place to live. People are not free when they cannot retire with dignity or feed their families.”
That’s how Sanders does it. He’s not defensive. He’s aggressive. While Trump equates the humane democratic socialism that millions of Americans embrace with “government coercion, domination and control”—in a desperate attempt to narrow the discourse—Sanders makes honest comparisons that expand and enhance the dialogue.
“I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments,” the senator told me several years ago. “How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do the American people know that? I doubt it. Do the American people even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Most people don’t know that. Do the American people know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?”
The numbers don’t tell us that America is a socialist country. But they do suggest that Americans are intrigued by socialism as an alternative to capitalism. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now view socialism positively, according to a Gallup survey from last year. And among the rising generation of voters, the numbers are substantially higher. “Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51 percent) as they are about capitalism (45 percent),” explains the Gallup analysis. “This represents a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68 percent viewed it positively.”
Another set of numbers may be even more telling. Membership in Democratic Socialists of America has spiked from 7,000 members in 2016 to over 55,000 today. And dozens of democratic socialists now serve in elected posts, from the US Senate to the US House to state legislatures and municipal governments and school boards across the country.
Take note, Mr. President, the “s” word isn’t as scary as you think. Indeed, says Ocasio-Cortez, “I think he’s scared.”
“He sees that everything is closing in on him,” says the democratic socialist, who is advancing a Green New Deal plan and proposing tax hikes for the rich. “And he knows he’s losing the battle of public opinion when it comes to the actual substantive proposals that we’re advancing.”
John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books, and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.
Brett Kavanaugh Is Already Done Pretending He Respects Abortion Rights
And Susan Collins is to blame.
By Elie Mystal
Lindsey Graham’s current Twitter profile picture is one of him standing next to Brett Kavanaugh. Graham—whose unhinged, screaming revenge fantasy marked a turning point in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings—clearly wants to be known as the senator most responsible for putting an alleged attempted rapist on the Supreme Court.
But that dubious honor will always go to Susan Collins. Collins made a bigger show of her indecision than Hamlet. Her equivocations stole the spotlight from true undecided Republican women like Lisa Murkowski and Joni Ernst. Collins was never truly “in play” on the Kavanaugh vote, and she proved it by taking to the Senate floor and giving a fiery speech in defense of Kavanaugh’s record while ignoring the numerous and documented times Kavanaugh lied before Congress.
That speech will be remembered as one of the most willfully ignorant things ever to be said during a Supreme Court confirmation process. Brett Kavanaugh will repay Collins’s kindness by making her look like a fool every time he pens a decision for the rest of her natural life.
Collins said that Brett Kavanaugh would defend women’s rights because of his deep respect for Supreme Court precedent. Here’s that part of the speech:
There has also been considerable focus on the future of abortion rights based on the concern that Judge Kavanaugh would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Protecting this right is important to me. To my knowledge, Judge Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition, but rooted in Article 3 of our Constitution itself. He believes that precedent is not just a judicial policy, it is constitutionally dictated to pay attention and pay heed to rules of precedent. In other words, precedent isn’t a goal or an aspiration. It is a constitutional tenet that has to be followed except in the most extraordinary circumstances.
This was a lie. Brett Kavanaugh believed nothing of the sort. And Kavanaugh proved Collins was lying about him with a dissent he wrote last night.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court delayed a controversial anti-health law from taking effect in Louisiana. The law would have required abortion providers to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their women’s health clinic. If that law sounds familiar to you, it should. It is virtually the same law that was passed in Texas and struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt just two years ago.
The Texas law was struck down by a vote of 5-3 in 2016. Anthony Kennedy was in the majority. Merrick Garland was still waiting for the Senate to perform its constitutionally mandated duty of giving advice and consent. Brett Kavanaugh was probably somewhere rolling dice and getting aggressive. A lot has changed in the 30-odd months since Whole Women’s Health was decided.
But the whole point of “precedent” is that the law is not supposed to change wildly just because you swap out the names of the judges making the decisions. Lawyers call this legal principle stare decisis—which I believe means “did I stutter?” in the original Latin. Stare decisis instructs judges to apply previously decided law to new cases, unless circumstances are radically and irrevocably different.
The only reason this Louisiana law was even in front of the Supreme Court is because the notoriously regressive US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit doesn’t care about precedent at all if it has a chance to stick it to abortion doctors. Emboldened by the elevation of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the fifth circuit is trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Women’s Health, and they figure there are enough anti-abortion justices now that they can get away with it.
And they might. John Roberts sided with the liberals to stop the Louisiana restrictions from taking effect immediately, but he didn’t actually strike down the law. Essentially, Roberts is just saying that the fifth circuit can’t overturn Supreme Court precedent without the Supreme Court noticing. Roberts was in the minority in Whole Women’s Health, and once he has a chance to fully review the Louisiana case, he might be just as willing to ignore his own court’s precedent as all the other conservatives.
Any Republican appointed Supreme Court justice is going to be hostile to women’s health rights, but Brett Kavanaugh is a special breed. Not only did he vote against last night’s decision, he’s the only one who wrote a dissent about it. On Slate, Mark Joseph Stern said that Kavanaugh’s dissent “should not be taken as anything less than a declaration of war on Roe v. Wade.” Kavanaugh’s professed respect for precedent didn’t survive its first contact with reality. He respects precedent so little he’d have let Louisiana just straight ignore it.
Which brings us back to Susan Collins’s ridiculous defense of Justice Brett. Anybody honestly looking at Brett Kavanaugh’s history—from his time on the DC circuit to his time as a Republican political hatchet man to his time in high school—knew that his career was one giant assault on women’s rights.
Collins knew it too. Her defenders will argue that she’s a simple idiot, easily duped by a repeated liar, but that defense isn’t credible. Don’t let the quivery voice and performative conscience fool you; Collins knew exactly what Kavanaugh would be about on the Supreme Court. Her support of him was malicious, not naive.
Susan Collins wrote Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court testimonial. He’ll write her political eulogy.
Elie Mystal is the executive editor of Above the Law and the legal editor of WNYC’s More Perfect. He can be followed @ElieNYC.
From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard about “Zero Waste” grocery stores in Europe where everything is sold in bulk and customers bring and fill up their own reusable containers and bags. When will we get some of these here on this “side of the pond”? — Jane Smith, Boston, MA
Many mainstream American grocery stores and chains now have bulk sections for dried foods like nuts and spices, though most everything else still comes sealed in plastic, cardboard, aluminum or glass, which customers then recycle or discard once they devour the contents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that containers and packaging make up almost a quarter of all landfill waste, with the average American generating four pounds of trash a day, most of it food-related. Furthermore, Americans throw out about a third of the food we buy, largely because we’re forced to buy more than we need due to the way food is pre-packaged for sale.
One solution to both of these problems is the “zero-waste” grocery store which sells in bulk (or “loose”) to customers who bring their own containers and shopping bags and fill them up with just the amount of food they will eat. Besides the obvious environmental benefits of reducing the stream of waste to landfills and energy-intensive recycling processors, zero-waste grocery stores also tend to be easier on the wallet—given that packaging adds upwards of 40 percent to the cost of many everyday food items.
Zero-waste food stores began turning up in Europe in just the last 15 years. The success of stores like Germany’s Original Unverpackt, France’s Day By Day, Denmark’s LØS Market and the UK’s Bulk Market and Earth.Food.Love shows a strong proclivity, at least in Europe, for a green grocery experience.
Zero waste markets are a harder sell in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped a few entrepreneurs from trying. The nation’s first zero waste grocery store, In.gredients in Austin, Texas, opened with fanfare in 2012 but had trouble competing with a nearby traditional grocery store—and finally shut its doors for good in April 2018. “We realized…we weren’t changing shoppers’ habits,” Erica Howard Cormier, In.gredients’ former GM, told CNBC. “You have to plan a lot to go to the grocery store with your own containers, and people would go to the store across the street because they forgot their container.”
Nevertheless, others have ventured forth undaunted. Some of the biggest are Precycle and the Filling Station in New York City, Dill Pickle Co-op in Chicago, Simply Bulk Market and Zero Market in Colorado, the Refill Shoppe near Los Angeles, People’s Food Co-op in Portland, OR and Central Co-op in Seattle. And in Vancouver, BC is Nada, one of the biggest and most successful zero waste markets in the world. The store claims to have diverted some 30,500 containers from landfills since opening in 2014.
A search on the Litterless.com’s “Zero Waste Grocery Guide” turns up dozens of zero waste grocery options in most major U.S. metropolitan areas, even if some are smaller specialty stores or just sections in traditional markets. So grab a few tupperwares and that old college reunion tote bag and get shopping!
CONTACTS: Original Unverpackt, original-unverpackt.de; Day By Day, daybyday-shop.com; Bulk Market, bulkmarket.uk; LØS Market, www.loes-market.dk; Earth.Food.Love, thezerowasteshop.co.uk; The Bulk Market, www.bulkmarket.uk; Nude Foods, nudefoods.co.za; The Refill Shoppe, therefillshoppe.com; The Filling Station, tfsnyc.com; Simply Bulk Market, www.simplybulkmarket.com; The Zero Market, www.thezeromarket.com; Nada Grocery, www.nadagrocery.com; Literless’ Zero Waste Grocery Guide, litterless.com/wheretoshop.
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit www.earthtalk.org. Send questions to: email@example.com.