February 10, 2020

The last few days have felt like the calm before the storm, although exactly what the storm is going to look like is impossible to tell.

There were some news items today. We learned that the casualties from the Iranian missile attack on the Iraqi bases after the US raid that killed Qassem Soleimani are now numbered at 109. Seventy-six of the wounded soldiers have returned to duty.

Today Trump released his 2021 budget, which is essentially his wish list. He will not get it all, as Congress wrangles over it, but it is significant because it shows his actual priorities rather than his verbal promises. As I wrote on Saturday, it shows his adherence to the Movement Conservative ideology of destroying the New Deal government. Two days ago, Trump tweeted “We will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare in Fiscal 2021 Budget. Only the Democrats will destroy them by destroying our Country’s greatest ever Economy!” But his budget calls for significant cuts from Social Security and from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as cuts from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Education, NASA, and ARPA-E, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a government agency established under President Obama to research and develop advanced energy technologies. That last one faces cuts of 173%... it is not only eliminated; it must return $311 million to the Treasury.

Also today, there was a new post-impeachment poll. Lots of people have been freaking out that Trump seemed more popular after the impeachment acquittal, but today’s Quinnipiac poll has him back to his old levels, with the top six Democrats in the race currently beating him in 2020. (It is WAY too early to put any faith in polls, by the way.)

If there is an inkling of what the “storm” might be, it seems worth noting that yesterday, on Face the Nation, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham reported that he had just spoken with Attorney General William Barr and that “The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from Rudy [Giuliani, Trump's private lawyer].” Barr “told me that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.” Today, Barr confirmed that the Justice Department has “established an intake process” for information on the Bidens that Giuliani gathered in Ukraine. It is, of course, deeply problematic for the president’s private lawyer to be feeding dirt on one of the president’s political rivals to the Department of Justice. Worse, Giuliani is currently under investigation by the Justice Department, in the same case that netted campaign finance charges against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who worked with Giuliani in Ukraine to smear the Bidens. (Parnas, you will remember, gave Russian money to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.)

Remember, too, Barr appointed his own investigator to examine the roots of the FBI’s Russia investigation, despite the fact that the FBI’s independent inspector general also investigated and found that while there were serious lapses in wiretap applications for surveilling former Trump advisor Carter Page, the bureau was correct to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr wanted his own investigation, overseen by his own appointee, John Durham. Durham’s investigation quietly became a criminal investigation last October. That gave him the power to subpoena witnesses, to convene a grand jury, and to file criminal charges. Since then he has interviewed at least two dozen former and current FBI officials. Barr has already said in public that the FBI “launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” And, of course, on February 6, Barr announced that in 2020, federal agents could not open investigations of presidential candidates, their campaigns, or their advisors without his written approval.

And there is more. As I mentioned a few days ago, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IO) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) announced last week that they had opened a review of “potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration.” (There is no evidence that Biden committed wrongdoing.) It turns out they had started this investigation back in November, asking the Treasury Department for information on Burisma and Ukraine. They asked for any “suspicious activity reports,” or SARs, secret documents filed by a financial institution for transactions over $10,000 or transactions that indicate they “might signal criminal activity.” Four days ago, the Treasury Department complied.

All of this looks rather as if the government is engaging in opposition research for Trump against Joe Biden. To say that is deeply problematic badly understates the case.

Barr is also in the news today for his announcement that the Department of Justice will immediately file multiple lawsuits against so-called sanctuary cities for unconstitutionally interfering with federal immigration enforcement. Trump plans to make immigration a key issue again in 2020, and here, too, it looks as if Barr is using the Justice Department to help Trump’s reelection. Remember, the Justice Department is supposed to be impartial.

As I sit quietly in this calm, surveying the post-impeachment scene, I think the thunder I hear on the horizon is that we have not heard the last of the Ukraine Scandal and attacks on Biden. Trump will likely continue to hammer on this because, as we know from the constant reiteration that his inaugural crowd was huge, or the sharpie-altered hurricane map, he will insist that his version of events is correct, despite the overwhelming evidence that Russia, not Ukraine, attacked us in 2016; that Joe Biden appropriately led an international coalition to oust Ukraine prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was corrupt; and that Hunter Biden did not engage in wrongdoing in Ukraine. I also think Barr is going to start stealing headlines for his inappropriate role in the upcoming election.

For now, though, I’m going to be in bed before 1:30, for a change, and am planning to sleep very deeply indeed. I suspect I’m going to need it.

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Notes:

Troops: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/10/total-u-s-troops-wounded-iranian-missile-attack-now-tops-100/4716343002/

Budget:

Polls:

Giuliani: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/lindsey-graham-william-barr-rudy-giuliani-lev-parnas-ukraine-trump.html?

Barr: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/barr-announces-sweeping-new-sanctions-significant-escalation-against-left-wing-sanctuary-cities/ar-BBZRooe

https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/482425-barr-announces-significant-escalation-against-sanctuary-cities

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/barr-acknowledges-justice-dept-has-created-intake-process-to-vet-giulianis-information-on-bidens/2020/02/10/0fba553a-4c1e-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html

Durham: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/us/politics/who-is-john-durham-attorney.html

No investigations: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/barr-says-no-investigations-2020-candidates-campaigns-without-his-approval-n1131836