March 15, 2020

Sorry, folks! Forgot to hit “send” last night….

I want to start tonight with a thank you.

Six months ago, on September 15, 2019, painting my house in Maine, I got stung by a yellow jacket. I didn’t dare drive to Boston until I knew how bad my reaction was going to be—I am allergic—so I put icepacks on the sting and sat down at the laptop to write on my professional Facebook page. The previous Friday I had seen the letter that Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had sent to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire telling him Congress knew that he was illegally withholding a whistleblower complaint and that he’d better hand it over. This was the first time I had seen a government official directly charge a member of the Trump administration with breaking a specific law. I knew it was big, so I wrote about it that day.

And then I was swamped with questions, so I wrote more about it the next day. And then the next. And so these letters were born.

In only six months, we have lived through the Ukraine Scandal, the impeachment crisis, the looming pandemic, and now a precarious economy. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of it. Most days we get several pieces of news that would be defining moments for any normal administration, and we get several a day. It is terribly hard even to keep track of them all, let alone to analyze them. This, of course, is one of the key goals of those who create this sort of chaos: the craziness keeps you so off-balance you cannot react to anything. You are simply surviving.

It is my hope that these posts comb the snarls out of the news coming at us, but also that they help you to see why I love America, and how our history has been one of great promise and principle, as well as of extraordinary failure at times. This country gives us the chance to write our own future, and if we have messed it up, we have the chance to edit and revise.

So I thank you all for six months of observation and learning, and getting to meet and chat with so many wonderful people. It’s been quite a ride. And, since this is starting to sound like a break-up letter, I will add that I expect these letters to continue to some unforeseen natural end point.

And so to today’s news: It’s all coronavirus, of course. Our numbers of infected continue to climb, and more and more public venues shut. In his press conference today, Trump insisted that his story about the Google website was true and that the media had lied about it, then flicked to the floor a paper he was holding that he claimed supported his assertions (the evidence that he was making the story up is unchanged). But he is increasingly seeming like a bystander as governors and businesspeople and school superintendents and so on make their own calls to protect the American people.

The virus has badly hurt the economy, first as the supply chain from China was disrupted, and now as our own services are shutting down. Trump has been worried about the slowing economy since long before the virus hit: he saw a strong economy as his best argument for reelection. So he has been nagging at the Federal Reserve Board that oversees our national banking system to lower interests rates. Theoretically, this should spur borrowing and investment, thus pumping up the economy, and Trump has complained bitterly about the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, whom Trump appointed but who has dragged his heels about lowering interest rates.

On March 3, the Fed, as it is nicknamed, lowered interest rates a half a percentage point to try to prop up the market, tottering as it was under pressure from the coronavirus. The move backfired, as investors saw the cut as a sign things were worse than they thought. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped almost 800 points.

Today, the Fed cut interest rates again, this time almost to zero, and announced a plan to buy at least $700 billion in bonds in an attempt to inject more money into the economy. The Federal Reserve Board had been slated to meet to discuss another rate cut this week, but made the announcement today to stave off a bad Monday in the stock market. It didn’t work, at least not in the short term. Stock market futures dropped 1000 points after the announcement, with investors possibly interpreting the emergency rate cut as another sign of impending crisis.

Finally, a follow up to an older story. Lots of you have asked me to explain the February 28 decision by the federal appeals court saying that Trump’s then-White House counsel Don McGahn did not have to testify before Congress. It seemed to me an extreme decision, and I wanted to wait to see what was going to happen with that case before I chased it down. That caution was rewarded on Friday, when we learned that the full circuit court will rehear the case.

I called in the help of a lawyer friend, Jim McCarrick, to explain what exactly all this means. He says: This is a major separation of powers controversy. In February, by a 2-1 majority, a court panel hearing the case on appeal decided that the House of Representatives could not go to court to force a member of the Executive Branch to testify under subpoena because that would drag the courts into disputes between the legislative and the executive branches of government. This was a triumph for Trump, who could now keep his advisors from testifying before Congress.

But now the full court has agreed to rehear the case. This happens when there are enough judges on the federal circuit court who think a narrow decision could be reversed by the whole court—that means the decision is vulnerable. The February McGahn decision says the administration doesn’t have to honor congressional subpoenas, and it’s a short step from that to saying that the government does not have to honor judicial subpoenas, under the same reasoning. That would put Trump entirely above the law. So the case is back in play. (Thank you, Jim.)

While we are all rightly focusing on the coronavirus and the economy, it is worth remembering that there are a number of legal fights Trump is fighting, and that the conflict with Iran continues, escalating Wednesday with a rocket attack on Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad that houses U.S. troops, killing two American soldiers and one British soldier. On Friday, the U.S. launched airstrikes against five Iraqi facilities supporting Iranian-backed militias. On Saturday, the Iranians retaliated with another rocket attack on Camp Taji, seriously injuring two Americans. The Iraqi government protested the U.S. retaliatory strikes, calling them “a violation of national sovereignty.”

There are a lot of pieces in play right now. None of them are good, and all of them pressure the president.

This is going to be a really rough week, folks. Hang on to the people you love, be kind to each other, and we will see what tomorrow brings.

——

News:

https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-google-statement-coronavirus-website-press-conference-2020-3

https://nypost.com/2020/03/03/federal-reserve-cuts-rates-in-emergency-move-to-battle-coronavirus-fears/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/03/stock-market-today-live.html

https://www.federalreserve.gov/aboutthefed.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/15/federal-reserve-slashes-interest-rates-zero-part-wide-ranging-emergency-intervention/

McGahn decision of 2.28: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/28/politics/appeals-court-mcgahn-ruling/index.html

Friday’s airstrike: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2020/03/12/pentagon-awaiting-decision-trump-how-respond-deadly-rocket-attack-iraq/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/rocket-attack-injures-troops-in-iraq-potentially-deepening-us-iran-tensions/2020/03/14/6ddf168c-65fa-11ea-912d-d98032ec8e25_story.html