December 20, 2022
There is some fallout from yesterday’s hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday afternoon, after the committee had voted unanimously to refer former president Trump to the Department of Justice for breaking at least four laws, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, made a statement. “House Democrats and Vicious Never Trumpers, who were run out of Congress by the American people, continue to desperately and unconstitutionally target President Trump & Republicans,” she said.
Stefanik blew up her reputation as a moderate to ride Trump’s coattails to power and now appears to think she has little choice but to back him to try to keep him from taking everyone down with him.
Also, sources have identified for CNN reporters Katelyn Polantz, Pamela Brown, Jamie Gangel, and Jeremy Herb the person to whom the committee referred as telling a witness to give misleading testimony. The person giving the advice was apparently Stefan Passantino, the top ethics lawyer for the Trump White House, and the person receiving it was top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson. By the time he was allegedly giving Hutchinson advice to protect Trump, Passantino was funded by Trump’s Save America political action committee.
Passantino denies the suggestion that he advised Hutchinson to mislead the committee, but he is on leave from the law firm where he was a partner, claiming that leave is because of “the distraction of this matter.” Los Angeles Times legal columnist Harry Litman tweeted that the accusation involving Passantino is “absolutely career ending if it pans out. Virtual instant [disbarment] and lucky if he stays out of jail.”
Finally, as the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol prepares to release its final report and close up shop, Punchbowl News today reported that the committee is also “extensively cooperating” with the Justice Department’s special counsel overseeing that investigation for the Department of Justice, Jack Smith. Smith requested all the committee’s materials on December 5. The committee began to send over materials last week.
Other continuing stories include the end of Title 42, the pandemic restriction on migrants’ right to apply for asylum in the U.S. After almost a year of litigation, a federal court ordered the rule lifted tomorrow. At the last minute, Republican attorneys general from 19 states sued to stop the lifting of the rule, and the Supreme Court issued an administrative stay.
In response, the administration today responded that it is not legitimate to use a health measure in place of immigration rules. It acknowledged that ending Title 42 orders “will likely lead to disruption and a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings,” and it “in no way seeks to minimize the seriousness of that problem.” But, the administration asserts, “[T]he solution to that immigration problem cannot be to extend indefinitely a public-health measure that all now acknowledge has outlived its public-health justification.” Instead, the country needs to rely on the immigration laws Congress has passed.
The administration has asked the court to deny the applicants’ attempt to keep Title 42 in place, but asks that if it does so that it give the government at least a few days notice, so it can prepare “for a full return” to normal operations.
Republicans have, of course, just killed a measure to increase funding and personnel at the border, and to extend restrictions until new facilities are built, at least in part because they are unwilling to extend a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” those folks brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. About 70% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for dreamers.
In another continuing story, the House Republicans continue to snarl at one another. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is now backing House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and has turned on Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who is siding with Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) against McCarthy. Boebert started things off by tweaking Greene about believing in “Jewish space lasers.” (You know, I started to explain this reference, but… I give up. For once I’m asking you just to take my word for it that it involves Greene.) Greene responded on Twitter, accusing Boebert of being in it for the money. The fight has devolved from there.
Meanwhile, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, reported today that Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) was unhappy with McCarthy’s threat to block bills from Senate Republicans if they back the omnibus funding bill to keep the government afloat. “Statements like that and statements coming from House Republicans is the very reason that some Senate Republicans feel they probably should spare them from the burden of having to govern.”
A profile of McCarthy by Jonathan Blitzer in the forthcoming New Yorker clearly lays out the Republicans’ problem. Blitzer quotes Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist, as saying: “The Dems’ extreme people are extreme on progressive policies. The Republicans’ extreme are extreme on the level of the insane taking over the asylum.”
McCarthy has to cater to those folks to become House speaker because the party’s majority is so small, but party members who actually want to govern don’t want to be held hostage to the far right. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE) says he thinks McCarthy is the only serious candidate for speaker, but if he doesn’t have the votes, Bacon said, ““I’m going to work with like-minded people across the aisle to find someone agreeable” for speaker.”
And finally, it appears that a story that has continued now since 2015 is approaching a new ending. As a candidate for the U.S. presidency, Trump promised he would release his tax returns, as is common for presidential candidates. In fact, he has fought the release of those returns ever since. Under the leadership of Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), the House Committee on Ways and Means subpoenaed about six years of Trump’s tax returns in May 2019 as part of an attempt to make sure presidents’ taxes were adequately audited, but it was not until last month the committee received the returns.
Today the committee voted to make those returns public after blacking out personal information such as Social Security numbers, street addresses, and banking information. It will also make public the returns of eight Trump business entities, along with a report by the committee. The vote was 24 to 16, along party lines, with Republican Kevin Brady (R-TX) arguing strongly against the release.
Already there are questions. The Internal Revenue Service has a policy that the individual tax returns for the president and vice president are “subject to mandatory review,” but it did not audit Trump’s taxes for the first two years he was in office. It did so only after Neal and the Ways and Means committee requested the taxes in 2019. That audit is still not finished.
Ironically, the discovery that the IRS was not, in fact, doing its job with regard to Trump’s taxes proves what the House Ways and Means Committee argued all along: we need new legislation to ensure that the IRS makes timely examinations of presidential tax returns while disclosing certain information to the public.