Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Jan. 6 Committee Hearing wrap up

There was a very brief mention here of Andrew Weissman’s “hub and spoke conspiracy” essay in The New York Times by TheBradBlog. It deserves more eyes, so I am posting it here.

Before the hearings, federal agents and prosecutors were performing a classic “bottom up” criminal investigation of the Jan. 6 rioters, which means prosecuting the lowest-ranking members of a conspiracy, flipping people as it proceeds and following the evidence as high as it goes. It was what I did at the Justice Department for investigations of the Genovese and Colombo crime families, Enron and Volkswagen as well as for my part in the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election led by the special counsel Robert Mueller.

But that is actually the wrong approach for investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. That approach sees the attack on the Capitol as a single event — an isolated riot, separate from other efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the election.

The hearings should inspire the Justice Department to rethink its approach: A myopic focus on the Jan. 6 riot is not the way to proceed if you are trying to follow the facts where they lead and to hold people “at any level” criminally accountable, as Attorney General Merrick Garland promised.

Bob Bauer and Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare note that the revelations of the Jan. 6 committee also show that Donald Trump and his lawyers lied their as*es off during the second impeachment trial.

These hearings show that Trump, through his lawyers, lied to Congress about the events of Jan. 6 in his second impeachment trial in denying that the then-president had meant to spark violence. In so doing, he undermined the constitutional process of impeachment—as well as the peaceful transition of power.

In determining whether to bring charges, prosecutors have to assess not merely the quality of the evidence against Trump but also the national interest in a prosecution of the former president. Trump’s lies in the impeachment process should properly figure into prosecutors’ deliberations on this point. After all, this was the constitutional proceeding by which he was supposed to be held accountable, and a conviction would have included a Senate judgment of his ineligibility to ever again seek office.  Corrupting the trial compounded the underlying conduct that prompted the impeachment by helping to sap the adjudication of its value—thus making prosecution arguably a more important mechanism for holding the president accountable.

What’s more, the hearings should prompt long overdue consideration of the processes by which Congress exercises its power to impeach and try presidents. Since 1974, it has been reluctant to conduct independent fact-finding. In the process affecting Bill Clinton, the House conducted virtually no independent factual inquiry, relying fatally on the independent counsel record compiled by Kenneth Starr. The Senate then did the minimum in the trial, conducting only three depositions. While the House conducted a substantial investigation in the first Trump impeachment trial, the Senate relied solely on House evidence and, though significant questions remained unanswered, passed on conducting any factual inquiry of its own.

Robin Givhan of The Washington Post reviews the testimony of the two witness at last Tuesday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, Stephen Michael Ayers and Jason Van Tatenhove.

Ayres described himself as a “family man” who’d worked at a cabinet company in northeastern Ohio for 20 years. He’s a guy who speaks in short, gravelly voiced sentences, sometimes mere fragments. He’s a regular guy, whatever that might mean, who enjoys camping and playing basketball. He arrived at his place at the witness table because he was also a man who spent a great deal of time on social media absorbing the lies of former president Donald Trump about a stolen election. Ayres wasn’t part of a club or an organization when he went to Washington with his friends. He was a citizen borne forward on anger, patriotism and the assurance of like-minded pals that he was doing the right thing.[…]

Ayres has pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Capitol and awaits sentencing; he was turned in by family who saw him bragging about it on social media. He lost his job, Ayres said, and sold his home. “It changed my life — and definitely not for the good.”

He was dressed as though he was trying to disappear, as if he was trying to fade back into a guy that no one notices on the street. He was wearing a gray suit and a blue shirt and a narrow red plaid tie. His hair was clipped short and his glasses were modestly stylish. And when Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) asked him if he still believed the election was stolen, he sounded not so much like an evangelist preaching the gospel of truth but like a man who was just plain exhausted.

I will go into some more detail about the testimony and the “I’m sorry” of Steven Michael Ayers Friday night.

Eleanor Klibanoff of the Texas Tribune profiles Linda Coffee, one of the few remaining survivors involved in the 1973 SCOTUS case Roe v. Wade.

Nearly 50 years later, Coffee, now 79, is one of the only people involved in that legal battle who is still alive. Henry Wade, the Dallas district attorney named in the suit, died in 2001, and Norma McCorvey, the pregnant woman identified in the filings as Jane Roe, died in 2017. Weddington died just after Christmas last year.

So Coffee alone has borne the unique burden of watching the U.S. Supreme Court, and its new conservative majority, meticulously pick apart and summarily reject every argument she once used to establish the constitutional protection for abortion.

“It’s a bittersweet thing for me,” she said. “Because I’m glad I got to do what I did, but it bothers me, really, to see how it’s ending up.”

You may also want to read Linda Coffee’s May 4  essay in The New Republic.

Ms. Coffee is an inspiration in many, many ways. And remember, she’s from Texas and still lives in the Lonestar State.

Jerusalem Demsas of The Atlantic is skeptical that there will be a large-scale migration because of the Dobbs decision.

Since Dobbs, speculation about liberals abandoning anti-abortion states has multiplied on social media. The neuroscientist Bryan William Jones was one of many liberals who declared his intention to leave a red state (in his case, Utah) for one that respects reproductive rights. Such vows aren’t limited to Twitter, however. In a recent Leger/Atlantic poll of 1,001 American adults, 14 percent of respondents said that the end of Roe had them reconsidering where they lived, including 25 percent of people who voted for Joe Biden. Notably, 24 percent of respondents said that the political climate had factored into a previous decision to move.

This would hardly be the first time that political upheaval led Americans to vote with their feet. Black Americans fled racist violence in the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration; intolerance led Mormons to Utah and LGBTQ Americans to havens such as San Francisco and New York City. Crossing national borders is a much larger hurdle, but in the decade after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, The Journal of Negro History notes, 15,000 to 20,000 Black Americans entered Canada. More than a century later, tens of thousands of draft dodgers also entered Canada to avoid conscription in the Vietnam War.

I’m skeptical that abortion will similarly scramble the American urban landscape, however.

Eliza Mackintosh of CNN writes about the continuing surge of Omicron subvariant BA.5 worldwide.

The newest offshoot of Omicron, along with a closely related variant, BA.4, are fueling a global surge in cases — 30% over the past fortnight, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Europe, the Omicron subvariants are powering a spike in cases of about 25%, though Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, has said that number may actually be higher, given the “almost collapse in testing.” BA.5 is on the march in China, ratcheting anxieties that major cities there may soon re-enforce strict lockdown measures that were only recently lifted. And the same variant has become the dominant strain in the United States, where it accounted for 65% of new infections last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We have been watching this virus evolve rapidly. We’ve been planning and preparing for this moment. And the message that I want to get across to the American people is this: BA.5 is something we’re closely monitoring, and most importantly, we know how to manage it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, in a news briefing on Tuesday.


Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review says that in light of the recent U.S. visit of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and President Biden’s trip to the Middle East, the Biden Administration needs to step it up on “press-freedom issues.”

It’s not uncommon for US leaders to skirt press-freedom issues in choreographed encounters with foreign counterparts with questionable records in that area. But the state of threat facing Mexican journalists is hardly a faraway issue: two of the reporters killed so far this year died in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego; in the past, Mexican journalists killed close to the US border have covered it, or lived and worked on both sides of it. And, more broadly, press freedom is uncommonly front of mind in US foreign affairs right now. Last night, Biden took off for his first presidential trip to the Middle East, where he plans to visit Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Saudi Arabia. He plans to focus on regional stability—and oil. But, as a slew of headlines in various countries have noted in recent days, the trip risks being overshadowed by the killings of two journalists, in particular—one recent, the other dating to before Biden’s time in office, both of considerable relevance to his administration and the US.

Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent journalist for Al Jazeera, was killed in May while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. She was a US citizen. After her death, eyewitness accounts and investigations by several major international news organizations and the United Nations concluded that she was shot by an Israeli soldier; CNN even suggested that she had been targeted…Over the July 4 holiday, the State Department said, in a 193-word statement, that officials had overseen an independent forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, which Palestinian officials handed over after initially refusing to do so. That analysis was inconclusive because the bullet was damaged. The State Department said that it had also been granted “full access” to official Israeli and Palestinian investigations. It drew on those to conclude, in strikingly vague and passive language, that while “gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh,” US officials had “no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances” during the Jenin raid.

Yesterday, four Democratic US senators, including Dick Durbin, the majority whip, wrote to Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, criticizing the State Department’s findings, arguing that they do not constitute the “independent, credible investigation” for which Blinken himself called, accusing the Biden administration of a lack of transparency, and laying out thirteen further questions. Meanwhile, various commentators demanded that Biden raise Abu Akleh’s killing on his visit to Israel. Abu Akleh’s family, for their part, wrote Biden a furious letter in which they characterized the US response as “abject” and demanded that Biden meet with them on his trip.

Chris Mason of BBC News reports on the latest in the race to become the next British Prime Minister.

Jeremy Hunt – the man who finished second for the Conservative leadership behind Boris Johnson in 2019 – told me he’s now backing Rishi Sunak.

And he hopes plenty of his supporters will too.

Mr Sunak is well out in front and the working assumption is he will get one of the two golden tickets into the run off – the vote of Conservative Party members.

But the fizz and chatter, for now at least, is about Penny Mordaunt, the runner up in round one.

If she were to win this race, she’d be the most little-known prime minister on assuming office of modern times.

The challenge for the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today, as she launches her campaign, is to prove later on that she is competitive and can grab a slot in the final two.

Annabelle Dickson of POLITICO Europe reports that the race to become British Prime Minister has gotten lowdown and dirty.

Dirty dossiers, claims of backroom stitch-ups, explosively timed Whitehall leaks and bitter behind-the-scenes briefing wars are all adding up to what many observers judge has been the dirtiest Tory leadership contest of recent times.

Such is the rancor that former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt issued a stark warning shot to colleagues as he was eliminated from the race Wednesday night.

“A gentle word of advice to the remaining candidates: smears and attacks may bring short term tactical gain, but always backfire long term,” he tweeted. “The nation is watching, and they’ve had enough of our drama.”

Another failed candidate, Sajid Javid, condemned the “poisonous gossip” being circulated by rival camps. A third, Nadhim Zahawi, said last week he was “clearly being smeared.”

But the key players left in the game show little sign of listening.

Thisanka Siripalan of The Diplomat says that in the aftermath of the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the ruling coalition in Japan’s upper house has expanded their majority.

The upper house election went ahead amid a record-breaking heatwave and fierce debate over national security, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a weak yen, and the rising cost of living. But it will also go down in history for its connection to Abe’s assassination in the final stages of election campaigning.

The election victory ushers in a fresh mandate for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. It is his second consecutive victory in a national election after taking office in October last year. But his electoral success will also put his leadership to the test, as Japan faces a mountain of long-term domestic and international issues. […]

There will be many shifts in the internal dynamics of the LDP, with Abe’s assassination leaving a gaping hole. As an elite and influential member of the LDP, Abe was a symbol of stability and experience.

Finally today, Buffalo native Ishmael Reed writes for The New York Review of Books ($$$) about the past and present of his hometown.

My mother and my stepfather arrived in Buffalo in 1941 from Chattanooga, Tennessee. By then my mother had survived tragedies that would have discouraged many others. Her father had been murdered by a white man in 1934. In his last moments at Chattanooga’s Erlanger Hospital, he told my mother, a teenager, that he heard the doctor say, “Let that nigger die.” When I received the death certificate, it noted that he had died of shock. She was left to tend to her mother, who suffered from schizophrenia. Then, in 1938, she was abandoned by my birth father. She was stabbed during a race riot on a Knoxville bus and received $3,000 in compensation only after her employer, a white woman, demanded it on her behalf.[…]

In her scathing study Power Failure: Politics, Patronage, and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York (2006), Dillaway describes blunder after blunder wrought by the city’s white leadership, including the “Group of Eighteen” that emerged in the 1970s from the city’s new business elite. That group’s “master plan” for the city, she shows, failed to “include a plan for neighborhood development.” By the 1990s the Group of Eighteen had been replaced by more recent arrivals. Byron Brown, who came from Queens, was sworn in for the first of his four mayoral terms in 2006. In 2008 The Buffalo News reported that he was “refusing to comment on his Police Department’s decision to withhold basic crime information from the public.”

“The city’s racial divide left black professionals, entrepreneurs, and workers to fend for themselves,” Dillaway writes. “Politically, the African American community remained outside the patronage systems of the Italian, Irish, and Polish mayors. Other isolating factors included segregated schools and the inability to move into white neighborhoods.” In the 1960s, in one episode of unity, Blacks and whites joined in an effort to boost Buffalo’s economy by building the University at Buffalo’s promised second campus on the city’s downtown waterfront. In Dillaway’s account, an unnamed banker helped nix the project out of fear that the university would attract “New York radicals and people of color” to the city. The second campus was eventually built in the nearby town of Amherst. I don’t know whether this was the same banker next to whom I sat on a flight from New York to Buffalo; I was going to ask him how he had acquired one of the world’s finest modern art collections, but he downed a double vodka and went to sleep. It was 10 AM.

Have a good day, everyone.

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