September 19, 2022
On Saturday, the anniversary of the day in 1787 on which the Framers signed the U.S. Constitution, Attorney General Merrick Garland administered the oath of allegiance to 200 immigrants in the Great Hall at Ellis Island. From 1892 to 1954, nearly 12 million immigrants stopped on the island as part of their journey to the United States, and from 1900 to 1924, the Great Hall was filled with as many as 5000 new arrivals a day, sitting on benches under the high ceiling that had been tiled in the spectacular patterns of Spanish-born architect Rafael Guastavino—who came to the U.S. in 1881—where they awaited health inspections and registration.
“It is my great honor to welcome you as the newest citizens of the United States of America,” Garland said. “Congratulations!... Just now, each of you took an oath of allegiance to the United States. In so doing, you took your place alongside generations who came before you, many through this very building, seeking protection, freedom, and opportunity. This country—your country—wholeheartedly welcomes you.”
As an introduction to the message he wanted to deliver, both to the new citizens and to old ones, Garland spoke of his own history as the grandson and son-in-law of those fleeing religious persecution, who came to the U.S. for the protection of our laws.
“The protection of law—the Rule of Law—is the foundation of our system of government,” the attorney general said.
“The Rule of Law means that the same laws apply to all of us, regardless of whether we are this country’s newest citizens or whether our [families] have been here for generations.
“The Rule of Law means that the law treats each of us alike: there is not one rule for friends, another for foes; one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless; a rule for the rich, another for the poor; or different rules, depending upon one’s race or ethnicity or country of origin.
“The Rule of Law means that we are all protected in the exercise of our civil rights; in our freedom to worship and think as we please; and in the peaceful expression of our opinions, our beliefs, and our ideas.
“Of course, we still have work to do to make a more perfect union. Although the Rule of Law has always been our guiding light, we have not always been faithful to it.
“The Rule of Law is not assured. It is fragile. It demands constant effort and vigilance.
“The responsibility to ensure the Rule of Law is and has been the duty of every generation in our country’s history. It is now your duty as well. And it is one that is especially urgent today at a time of intense polarization in America.”
Garland went on to ask the people in the room to share a promise “that each of us will protect each other and our democracy,” that “we will uphold the Rule of Law and seek to make real the promise of equal justice under law,” and that “we will do what is right, even if that means doing what is difficult.”
It is hard to imagine that his words were not intended to convey that he intends to follow the legal trails left behind by the former administration wherever they lead.
Certainly, the former president, who is under scrutiny for stealing national secrets, scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and inciting mob violence against the U.S. government, appears to be concerned.
Over the weekend, in a rally on Saturday in Ohio, Trump made it clear that he is no longer playing with a violent, extremist base, but rather cultivating it. In the days before the event, he “retruthed” posts from the conspiracy theory QAnon, whose followers believe that he is leading a secret war against pedophiles and cannibals and that he will soon be placed back into power, arrest his Democratic enemies, try them, and execute some of them. That moment of his return is called “the Storm,” and one of his “retruths” assured his audience that “The Storm is Coming.” The rally played the QAnon theme song—or something so like it as to be indistinguishable from it—and featured other QAnon-adjacent politicians.
Trump seems to know he is down to his last line of supporters, and he is rallying them to be ready to commit violence on his behalf, much as he did in the weeks before January 6, 2021. But the rally appeared to have attracted only a few thousand people, a far cry from the crowds he commanded when he was in office. His power resides now primarily in his ability to deliver or withhold his supporters, whom the party desperately needs. In exchange for delivering his supporters, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out, Trump seems to be demanding that a Republican Congress put an end to his legal troubles.
Those legal troubles are mounting.
On September 5, 2022, Judge Aileen Cannon granted Trump’s request for a special master to review the materials FBI agents seized in their search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8. Those materials included more than 100 that bore classified markings, some at the highest levels. Cannon ordered the Department of Justice to stop its criminal investigation of Trump until the special master reviews the material. The DOJ asked Cannon to reconsider, because its ongoing review of the national security damage is tied to the criminal investigation. She refused and, at Trump’s team’s suggestion, appointed Judge Raymond Dearie special master.
Legal scholars say Cannon’s rulings are deeply problematic, but they looked as if they would buy Trump time until after the midterms, when Republicans might have control of one or both houses of Congress to help him out. While they are appealing the ruling, the DOJ is also responding to it.
A filing tonight shows that Dearie has ordered all inspection and labeling done by October 7, rather than the November 30 date the Trump team expected. It also shows that Dearie has asked Trump to specify which documents he claims to have declassified before claiming them as his property. Trump’s lawyers say they don’t want to tell the judge anything specific about what Trump might or might not have declassified, suggesting they want to reserve that for a possible criminal case.
Former U.S. attorney and legal commenter Joyce White Vance noted that he is “presumably avoiding the need to acknowledge he lied until after the midterm elections.”
As Trump faces legal trouble, Florida governor Ron DeSantis appears to be trying to gather Trump’s voters to himself with his stunt of sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard off Massachusetts with a camera crew that gave video footage to the Fox News Channel but without telling Massachusetts authorities the migrants were coming. It was performative cruelty designed to show “liberals” rejecting immigrants in their backyards, and the fact that the people of Martha’s Vineyard welcomed them and got them back to the mainland and to shelter did not change that narrative in right-wing media: officials have been swamped with angry phone calls about their “hypocrisy,” and today a small plane towed a banner over the island reading, “Vineyard Hypocrites.”
But Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo noted all along that DeSantis’s story didn’t add up. He is a Florida governor, but he moved people from Texas, and the story is hardly one that looks like a government operation. It appears that a tall, blonde woman going by “Perla” worked with two men and two other women to find migrants to move, promising them work and housing in Massachusetts and putting them up in a hotel until they got 48 people to go.
Judd Legum of Popular Information added the piece that the migrants were not undocumented, as DeSantis repeatedly claimed, but in fact are here legally after applying for asylum. Someone gave them brochures promising 8 months’ cash assistance, food, housing, clothing, job training, and so on, benefits available only to a specific and small category of refugees, which they are not.
If they were misled about either their destination or their opportunities, those lying to them might run up against legal charges. For their part, DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez say it is “categorically false” that they were misled.
Tonight, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in Texas announced it has opened up a criminal investigation.
There is one man tonight who is not worried about further legal troubles, though. The administration today secured the release of Mark Frerichs, kidnapped in Afghanistan in January 2020 and held for 31 months, by exchanging him for Bashir Noorzai, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking in 2009.
[Guastavino ceiling at Ellis Island:]