In this end-of-the week round-up: Gen. Flynn’s Russia connection, AG Session’s “vote fraud” obsession, Senate corruption gets an Alabama blessin’, and a dictionary gives us a trolling lesson, plus a bunch of other stories that don’t rhyme:
1. So it turns out that when Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was having those secret phone calls with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period, they spoke about the U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Flynn had denied several times that he spoke to Russia about the sanctions, and Vice President Mike Pence also denied that Flynn ever had such conversations as did Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and others. Flynn’s behavior is a huge breach of protocol and a possible violation of the Logan Act. Luckily for him, Logan Act prosecutions just don’t ever happen, but that gives you an indication of how serious and unusual his actions were.
(Susan Hennessey is Managing Editor at Lawfare blog & formerly an attorney in the office of General Counsel of the National Security Agency)
2. Get to know your new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with this story from someone who experienced him first-hand, civil rights worker Evelyn Turner:
In 1985, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions indicted me, my husband, and another civil rights worker, Spencer Hogue, on false charges of election fraud for assisting elderly black citizens with absentee voting ballots. Until the day I die, I will believe that our arrests were because of our successful political activism and were designed to intimidate black voters and dampen black voting enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Sessions declined to investigate claims of unlawful white voting.
Despite none of us having any history of criminal activity, Sessions wanted to give us the maximum sentences, adding up to two centuries in prison. My husband was willing to plead guilty for crimes he didn’t commit if it would keep me from going to jail. But I knew we were innocent and refused the offer. Thankfully, the case against us, the “Marion 3,” was weak. The vast majority of charges were dismissed outright for lack of evidence, and a racially-mixed jury only took four hours of deliberation before acquitting us.
Yet the trial took a toll. We had to sell our family’s farm. I lost my job. The episode also took a toll on the voters of Perry County. The tactics of using the levers of power to intimidate and sow fear worked all too well. Black turnout dropped. People were afraid to exercise their constitutional right to vote for fear of retaliation backed by the power of the government. This was what Jeff Sessions did as a U.S. Attorney. I can only imagine what might happen to black voters when he has the power of the entire Department of Justice at his disposal.
3. And this next article from The Washington Post is a couple weeks old, but I’m including it here because it’s essential to understanding who Sessions is. Many of Trump’s policies that are most repellent to Democrats and moderates are those that stem from his nationalistic impulses. But there’s actually somebody else helping engineer those policies, and that somebody is now our Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement officer:
From immigration and health care to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president’s policies. His reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president’s most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.
The author of many of Trump’s executive orders is senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a Sessions confidant who was mentored by him and who spent the weekend overseeing the government’s implementation of the refugee ban. The tactician turning Trump’s agenda into law is deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, Sessions’s longtime chief of staff in the Senate. The mastermind behind Trump’s incendiary brand of populism is chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who, as chairman of the Breitbart website, promoted Sessions for years.
4. Trump is very focused on putting up walls and other barriers to keep the “bad people” out of the United States, but the New York Times has a deep dive on how ISIS directs terror attacks from afar without anyone ever entering (or exiting) the targeted country. They do it all through the internet, “in what counterterrorism experts are calling enabled or remote-controlled attacks.” The planners who guide the attack stay completely anonymous even to the men they are coaching, and the attackers never have to travel in or out of their home country, where they launch the attack:
While the trail of many of these plots led back to planners living in Syria, the very nature of the group’s method of remote plotting means there is little dependence on its maintaining a safe haven there or in Iraq. And visa restrictions and airport security mean little to attackers who strike where they live and no longer have to travel abroad for training . . .
In several [cases], a pattern has emerged: The attacker initially tries to reach Syria, but is either blocked by the authorities in the home country or else turned back from the border. Under the instructions of a handler in Syria or Iraq, the person then begins planning an attack at home.
5. After Trump’s first military mission in Yemen, which ended with the death of one navy SEAL and 25 civilian casualties on the ground, all while missing the target, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run ground missions there. The White House continues to insist that not only was the mission a success, but that any who says otherwise is doing a disservice to Ryan Owens, the SEAL who was killed in the mission.
6. On Wednesday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer granted an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and a spokeswoman for the company building the pipeline said they plan to begin drilling right away. She told The Hill on Thursday that work had indeed begun. But the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed court papers on Thursday asking for a temporary restraining order to stop construction, a preliminary injunction to withdraw the easement, and permission to amend to lawsuit to add a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
7. You heard all about the tragic “Bowling Green Massacre” which occurred only in Kellyanne Conway’s mind, but did you know that Sean Spicer also invented an Islamic terror attack? His took place in Atlanta, and he cited it to reporters three different times. He later claimed that he meant to say Orlando, obvs!
8. You’ll be pleased to know that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks Trump’s presidency is going just great so far.
9. When veterans group VoteVets.org wanted to send a message to President Trump they got clever and placed an ad in a spot they knew he’d be sure to see it – right in the middle of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. And I think they did a pretty good job of crafting an ad that hits him where it hurts.
10. The swamp just keeps getting swampier: Alabama’s Republican Governor was caught having an affair with a staffer last year, and there were several other related scandals including possible misuse of state funds by him and the woman involved. The Alabama House Judiciary Committee (led by Republicans) was investigating him for possible impeachment or prosecution when the state attorney general Luther Strange came along and asked the committee to back off and let him take over the investigation instead. Governor Bentley just appointed that same Luther Strange to fill the U.S. Senate seat that opened up when Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General. And darn it, Strange never got a chance to finish his investigation. Now, Governor Bentley gets to choose Alabama’s next Attorney General who will (or will not) take over the investigation into him.
11. And lastly, if you’re on Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen that the Merriam Webster dictionary Twitter account has gotten pretty sassy over the last year or so, and now it’s started subtweeting the Trump administration. Buzzfeed has a fun story story about it:
“A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality,” read a tweet from the staff at Merriam-Webster, linking to a dictionary article showing searches for the word “fact” had spiked after Conway’s interview. Simple yet full of shade, neutral yet undeniably pointed, it was the right tweet from the right account at just the right moment of public chaos.