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Klete Keller, Olympic gold medalist swimmer, gets 6 months in home detention for Jan. 6 Capitol riot

Politico -

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Klete Keller, who threw his USA team jacket in a trash can after he stormed the U.S. Capitol, was sentenced on Friday to six months of home detention for joining the mob’s Jan. 6 attack on the seat of American democracy.

At 6-foot-6, Keller towered over police officers guarding the Capitol and other Donald Trump supporters who breached the building, and he was quickly identified by authorities. He pleaded guilty in 2021 to a felony charge and was one of the first rioters to publicly agree to cooperate with authorities investigating the Capitol attack.

Video captured Keller leading profane chants directed at then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats. He also joined a chorus of rioters in singing the national anthem in the middle of the Capitol. He resisted efforts to remove him from the Capitol, ripping an elbow away and shaking off a police officer, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sentenced Keller to three years of probation, including six months of home detention, and ordered him to perform 360 hours of community service — at a rate of 10 hours per month that he is under court supervision.

Keller told the judge he knew his actions on Jan. 6 left lawmakers in fear and made it more difficult for police to do their job.

“I have no excuse for why I am in front of you today,” he said. “I understand my actions were criminal and that I am fully responsible for my conduct.”

A prosecutor, Troy Edwards Jr., asked the judge to sentence Keller to 10 months of imprisonment. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a term of imprisonment ranging from 15 to 21 months.

But the judge said he believes Keller’s time will be better spent speaking to teenagers and college students about his mistakes — and how to avoid repeating them — than serving time behind bars.

“If there ever was a case that screams out for probation, this is it,” Leon said.

During the Jan. 6 riot, Keller wore a jacket with an American flag on a sleeve, an Olympic team patch on the front and the letters “U.S.A.” across the back. Prosecutors said he tossed the jacket into a trash can on his way back to a hotel and later smashed his cellphone with a hammer because he knew he was “fleeing a crime scene.”

“Klete Derik Keller once wore the American flag as an Olympian. On January 6, 2021, he threw that flag in a trash can,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Keller’s lawyer said he threw away the jacket out of shame after leaving the Capitol and encountering a young boy and his father on a train. The boy asked Keller about his Olympic career and requested a photo with him, defense attorney Zachary Deubler said in a court filing.

Keller felt that “he let this young man down by behaving the way that he did, and the moment that this young man and father find out what he did, their admiration for him would be shattered,” Deubler wrote.

Investigators never recovered the jacket or any cellphone videos or photos that he recorded at the Capitol. Keller surrendered to authorities about a week after returning home to Colorado.

Keller has been cooperating with investigators since he pleaded guilty to obstructing the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Prosecutors pointed to Keller’s “substantial assistance” as grounds for leniency.

Prosecutors said his early guilty plea “undoubtedly reached thousands of others weighing whether to turn themselves in, plead guilty, or even cooperate.” They added that his “public acknowledgement that his interference with the peaceful transfer of power was, in fact, a serious crime provided an important counterweight to the false narrative that January 6 was a peaceful, lawful protest.”

Keller experienced personal and financial problems after retiring from professional swimming. After separating from his wife in 2014, Keller lived out of his car for nearly a year while working three jobs to pay for child support and other expenses, according to his attorney.

After the Capitol riot, he lost a job and regular visitation with his children. Last year, he signed the paperwork for his children to be adopted by their stepfather, his attorney said.

“I hope my case serves as a warning to anyone who rationalizes illegal conduct, especially in a moment of political fervor,” Keller wrote in a letter to the judge. “The consequences of my behavior will follow me and my family for the rest of our lives.”

On Jan. 6, Keller attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House with a friend before marching with a crowd to the Capitol. He entered the building through an open door on the Upper West Terrace and remained inside for nearly an hour.

Keller came within 50 feet of the Senate chamber, which lawmakers evacuated as the mob swarmed the building. Police officers had to forcibly remove Keller and other rioters from the Capitol through the East Rotunda lobby.

Keller won five medals, including two golds, while competing for the U.S. at three summer Olympics. At the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, he won an individual bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle event and a silver medal as the anchor leg of a relay.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Keller swam the anchor leg when the U.S. won gold medals in the 800-meter freestyle relay. He and teammates Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay narrowly held off a rival Australian team. At the 2008 games in Beijing, China, Keller won another gold medal in a freestyle relay.

Approximately 1,200 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Nearly 900 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a judge or jury after trials. Over 700 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving prison sentences ranging from three days to 22 years.

Ron DeSantis vs. Gavin Newsom showdown on Fox drew nearly 5M viewers

Politico -

The messy showdown between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Fox Thursday evening might not have produced much beyond renewed partisan sniping, but it managed to draw a healthy sum of 4.75 million viewers who tuned in live.

The 90-minute debate, intended for the two prominent governors to offer competing visions for the country, was host Sean Hannity’s most viewed telecast of the year, according to a Fox News release. And approximately 700,000 also tuned in for a replay of the crowdless show later in the night.

The event saw DeSantis outline his array of conservative policies he has enacted in Florida, while Newsom generally sought to characterize DeSantis negatively and gave a full-throated defense of President Joe Biden’s administration and his reelection campaign. And DeSantis was able to get some help from Hannity, whose longtime conservative punditry showed on occasion through his guise as a neutral moderator to give the Floridian a runway to detail his accomplishments.

For the two attention-hungry governors — one of them looking for a spark to a flailing presidential campaign and the other with more national ambitions — the primetime matchup was a good opportunity to spread their respective messages. But for DeSantis, he’ll need much more than a good ratings night to make a vast gap in the polls in the presidential race, with Donald Trump polling upwards of 40-50 percentage points ahead of him.

The governors’ debate had no party infrastructure backing or promoting it, unlike the ongoing series of debates in the GOP presidential primary contest. The three Republican presidential debates in recent months drew 12.8 million, 9.5 million and 6.9 million viewers respectively. Without Trump, the frontrunner and frequent crowd favorite, the debates — two hosted by Fox networks and third by NBC — have done little to change the trajectory of a race that has remained stubbornly stagnant, save some shifts largely constrained to single percentage points.

Still, DeSantis had to stand out in previous debates against several other candidates, many of them with similarly conservative messages to him. The Democrat vs. Republican dynamic on Thursday night gave him a clearer purview for him to cut through to potential voters, as he stood in sharp contrast on essentially every single issue with the Democrat on stage with him.

In early November, fellow Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy had a small-scale debate with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) in another play for attention in the Trump-dominated race.

NewsNation will host the fourth debate in the series next Wednesday. But its reach compared to the major television networks won’t give the not Trumps of the field too large of a pedestal. The RNC has not announced public plans for a fifth debate.

Florida appeals court sides with DeSantis, reverses ruling on congressional map

Politico -

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A state appeals court on Friday overturned a ruling that declared Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map unconstitutional, setting the stage for the legal battle to finally head to the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court.

The map pushed by the governor dismantled the North Florida seat of former Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, and resulted in Republicans gaining four seats that helped the GOP flip the U.S. House during the 2022 midterm elections.

A circuit court judge back in August said the map violated Florida’s constitution and ordered that legislators redraw it.

Initially, both sides wanted the case to be decided by the state’s highest court ahead of the 2024 legislative session that starts in January and asked that the legal challenge be fast-tracked. But instead, in an unusual move, the entire 1st District Court of Appeals took up the appeal, which slowed down the resolution of the legal clash between the GOP-controlled Legislature, DeSantis and voting rights and civil rights groups that sued the state over the maps.

Judge J. Lee Marsh in August had found that the map’s elimination of the seat held by Lawson diminished the ability of minority voters to elect a candidate of their choice, as outlined in voter-approved standards known as Fair Districts. In his ruling, Marsh cited what he called the “precedent” of the previous Florida Supreme Court decision that created Congressional District 5, which stretched from Jacksonville to just west of Tallahassee.

But on Friday, the appeals court, by a 8-2 vote, rejected that logic and contended that the judges were not bound by the previous state Supreme Court decision. The judges also asserted that not enough was done to demonstrate that Lawson’s 160-mile long district was truly harmed by the new map.

“The plaintiffs did not submit any evidence regarding the existence of naturally occurring (rather than court manufactured) Black communities within the former CD-5,” states the ruling written by judges Brad Thomas and Adam Tanenbaum. “Nothing in the record describes who the Black voters are as members of a meaningful community — nothing about a shared history or shared socio-economic experience among the Black voters in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and other areas throughout the expanse of former CD-5.”

Thomas was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush while Tanenbaum was appointed by DeSantis.

The ruling added that the lawsuit itself was based on a “false premise” that “minority voters living hundreds of miles apart” are “entitled to proportional representation because they were once included together in former CD-5 by court order for three election cycles.”

Two judges on the panel dissented. Judge Ross Bilbrey, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Rick Scott, sharply criticized the appeals court for refusing to speed the case on to the state Supreme Court.

“By failing to do so, we have deviated from our past practice and delayed the ultimate resolution to the detriment of the voters, election officials, and candidates in North Florida,” he wrote.

Bilbrey also contended that Marsh’s initial ruling against the map was supported by “competent, substantial evidence.” He added that “a politically cohesive racial minority is now denied the ability to elect a candidate of choice in a racially polarized district, showing that unconstitutional diminishment has occurred.”

Those involved in lawsuits challenging the governor’s map blasted the appeals court ruling.

“Every Floridian should be gravely concerned that their judicial system is turning a blind eye to state-sanctioned voter suppression,” said Genesis Robinson, political director for Equal Ground, one of the groups that sued over the maps. “How are Black voters in Florida supposed to have equal representation under the law when the diminishment of their voting rights goes unchecked?”

Amy Keith, Common Cause Florida executive director, said the ruling reflects the importance of her group’s decision to challenge the maps in a separate federal lawsuit. A ruling in that case is expected by the end of the year.

Florida picked up one congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth for a total of 28 districts. Lawmakers initially planned to preserve Lawson’s district until DeSantis objected and contended that the existing district was an illegal race-based gerrymander. The Legislature came back with another map that shifted it eastward around Jacksonville, but still contained a substantial number of Black voters.

DeSantis responded by vetoing the map and instead pressured the Legislature to enact one drawn up by his staff.

Trump is not immune from election-subversion prosecution, judge rules

Politico -

Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution for his attempt to subvert the 2020 election, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled Friday, concluding that his term as president does not serve as a shield against charges that he sought to defraud and disenfranchise millions of Americans.

“Defendant’s four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” Chutkan ruled in a 48-page opinion, sweeping aside Trump’s most intricate attempt to derail the case against him.

“A former President’s exposure to federal criminal liability is essential to fulfilling our constitutional promise of equal justice under the law,” Chutkan ruled.

Trump is almost certain to appeal the ruling, which appears to be ultimately headed for the Supreme Court, igniting the most important test yet of special counsel Jack Smith’s Washington case against Trump.

Chutkan’s opinion is an important and historic benchmark for the Trump prosecution, which is heading for what is expected to be the first-ever criminal trial of a former president. Aware of that history, Chutkan repeatedly hearkened to the founders, noting that George Washington himself wanted presidents subject to the rule of law.

“In this case, Defendant is charged with attempting to usurp the reins of government as Washington forewarned,” Chutkan, a 2014 Obama appointee to the federal bench, wrote.

Chutkan’s ruling came less than 12 hours after a federal appeals court rejected Trump’s similarly sweeping claims of immunity from a series of civil lawsuits that seek to hold him accountable for stoking the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Chutkan cited the hours-old ruling twice in her own, noting that the appeals court agreed presidents were not immune from consequences for actions they took even while in office.

But Chutkan also emphasized that Trump’s status as a former president sharply limits concerns about the potential chilling effect that a potential prosecution might have on current and future officeholders. Rather, she said, the fact that Trump is the only former president ever charged — and the robust due process protections in place for all criminal defendants — dramatically alleviate those concerns.

“[T]he prospect of federal criminal liability for a former President” would not violate the longstanding principle that presidents should operate free from fear that they may face future litigation or other “unacceptable risks.”

“Indeed, it is likely that a President who knows that their actions may one day be held to criminal account will be motivated to take greater care that the laws are faithfully executed,” she ruled, adding, “Every President will face difficult decisions; whether to intentionally commit a federal crime should not be one of them.”

Trump has contended that he’s immune from federal prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election based on several constitutional principles. Among them, he argued that his bid to exhort and press state and federal officials to throw out the certified results was simply an exercise of his First Amendment rights. He also contended that because the House impeached him shortly after the violent Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol — and the Senate ultimately acquitted him — his criminal charges violate the Constitution’s prohibition on “double jeopardy.”

Chutkan rejected both arguments as a patent misread of the Constitution.

"[I]t is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime," Chutkan said.

She similarly rejected the notion that Trump’s impeachment acquittal precluded future criminal prosecution from related conduct as defying “common sense.”

“Without reelection, the expiration of that term ends a Presidency as surely as impeachment and conviction,” Chutkan wrote. “Nothing in the Impeachment Judgment Clause prevents criminal prosecution thereafter.”

The ruling is also not the first time Chutkan has emphasized Trump does not possess the power of a king. In a crucial decision in 2021, Chutkan granted the Jan. 6 committee access to Trump’s White House held by the National Archives, a ruling that was ultimately affirmed by the appeals court and permitted to stand by the Supreme Court.

“Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” she said of Trump at the time.

FactChecking DeSantis-Newsom Debate

FactCheck -

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom — who head two of the largest states in the country — squared off in a debate on Nov. 30 on Fox News. The governors spun, mangled and exaggerated some of the facts on issues including COVID-19, migration, abortion, book bans and gasoline prices.

The debate, which was moderated by Sean Hannity, was billed as “The Great Red State vs. Blue State Debate.” But it wasn’t a preview of the 2024 presidential election. DeSantis is currently trailing former President Donald Trump in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, while Newsom has ruled out challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination.

Florida’s COVID-19 Restrictions

In a lively exchange on COVID-19 mitigation measures in Florida, Newsom accused DeSantis of initially supporting restrictions “until he decided to fall prey to the fringe of his party.” During that exchange, DeSantis claimed that Newsom was wrong about DeSantis closing beaches and imposing quarantines — but in both instances the California governor was right.

Newsom: You closed down your beaches, your bars, your restaurants.

DeSantis: False.

Newsom: It’s a fact.

DeSantis: The beaches were not closed.

Newsom: You had quarantines.

DeSantis: False.

Newsom: You had quarantines. You had checkpoints all over the state of Florida. By the way, I didn’t say that. Donald Trump laid you out on this. Dead to rights. You did that. You followed science, you followed [Dr. Anthony] Fauci.

DeSantis: That’s not true.

It’s true that DeSantis resisted closing beaches and issuing stay-at-home orders, but he did both in orders that were crafted in a limited way. He also directed the Florida Department of Transportation, or FDOT, to set up checkpoints in an attempt to enforce an order requiring travelers entering Florida from the New York state area to isolate for 14 days. 

Here’s a brief timeline of events that shows how DeSantis issued a series of increasingly restrictive executive orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

The Florida governor issued executive order 20-68 on March 17, 2020, directing public beaches to restrict “gatherings to no more than 10 persons” and urging beachgoers to “support beach closures at the discretion of local authorities.”

On March 30, 2020, DeSantis signed an executive order (20-89) directing four counties in South Florida to restrict public access to “non-essential” businesses. Over the following two days, he issued two executive orders: The first (20-90) ordered beaches to be closed in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and the second (20-91) ordered senior citizens and those with a “significant underlying medical condition” statewide to stay at home. The Tampa Bay Times said that DeSantis had – up until that point — resisted issuing a statewide stay-at-home order.

The April 1, 2020, order, the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “does not mandate any business shut down,” but “it severely restricts the movement of employees and customers and many non-essential stores and offices will likely chose to temporarily close. Businesses are encouraged to telework and restaurants to provide food via drive-thru, take out or delivery.”

As for checkpoints, DeSantis issued an executive order (20-82) on March 24, 2020, ordering people entering Florida from Connecticut, New Jersey and New York “to isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days.” He followed that up three days later with another executive order (20-86) directing FDOT to set up “appropriate checkpoints, including at welcome centers and rest stops,” and requiring travelers from those states and others areas “with substantial community spread” to fill out forms at the checkpoints disclosing “the address of their location of isolation or quarantine for a period of 14 days.”

Californians Moving to Florida

Both governors sought to portray their states as a more desirable place to live. DeSantis emphasized Florida’s relative low overall crime rate and taxes, while Newsom countered by touting the state’s low murder rate and a progressive tax system that benefits low- and moderate-income taxpayers.

Asked by Hannity to explain why California residents are moving to Florida, Newsom said: “You mean the last two years, more Floridians going to California than Californians going to Florida?” Newsom added, “That’s going to be fun to fact-check.”

The facts, however, show that Newsom is wrong to suggest that California has seen a two-year net increase in migration of residents moving between the two states.

According to Census Bureau migration data for 2022, 50,701 Florida residents had been living in California the year prior, and 28,557 Californians had been living in Florida – a net gain for Florida and a net loss for California of 22,144 residents.

In 2021, 37,464 Florida residents had been living in California the year prior, and 24,692 California residents had been living in Florida – a net gain for Florida and a net loss for California of 12,772, Census data show.

That’s a two-year net gain for Florida of 34,916 new residents.

California Gasoline Prices

For a variety of reasons, including higher state taxes and clean fuel mandates, California typically has among the highest gasoline prices in the United States. But DeSantis left the misleading impression that the state’s gasoline prices are currently $7 per gallon.

The issue of gasoline prices came up when Newsom was making a point about California’s progressive tax rate. DeSantis interjected, “How does paying $7 a gallon gas help working people?”

Gasoline prices fluctuate, and prices have reportedly topped $7 a gallon at some individual stations in the state, from time to time. But currently, the statewide average for regular gasoline in California is less than $5.

As of Dec. 1, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $4.83 in California, which is the highest in the country, according to AAA. The least expensive gasoline is in Texas, where the average is $2.75 a gallon. In addition to Texas, 27 other states have lower gasoline prices than Florida ($3.16 a gallon).

Book Bans in Florida

As governor, DeSantis signed laws that, according to PEN America, “bar instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade (HB 1557), prohibit educators from discussing advantages or disadvantages based on race (HB 7), and mandate that schools must catalog every book on their shelves, including those found in classroom libraries (HB 1467). Due to the lack of clear guidance, these three laws have each led teachers, media specialists, and school administrators to proactively remove books from shelves, in the absence of any specific challenges.” 

During the debate, Newsom said “1,406 books have been banned just last year under Ron DeSantis’ leadership” – which is not quite right. PEN America reported that during the 2022–23 school year, there were 1,406 “instances of books banned” in Florida schools. Some of the books on the list are duplicates, such as Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s first book, “Bluest Eye,” which is listed as being banned in 12 Florida schools or school districts.

Newsom also asked, “What’s wrong with Amanda Gorman’s [poem]?” – referring to “The Hill We Climb,” which Gorman read at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Newsom suggested that her poem was banned, and it is true that it is on PEN America’s list of banned books.

But, as we wrote, Gorman’s poem was not banned. In one K-8 school in Miami-Dade County, the book was moved to a shelf for upper-grade students. The school said, “The book is available in the media center as part of the middle grades collection,” meaning sixth through eighth grades.

Florida’s Abortion Ban

In April, DeSantis signed legislation, known as the Heartbeat Protection Act, that banned abortion in Florida after six weeks of gestation. A year earlier, DeSantis signed a bill that banned most abortions after 15 weeks.

During a discussion on abortion, Hannity asked DeSantis about his reason for signing legislation instituting a six-week ban after he had already signed similar legislation prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks. In his response, DeSantis said of the six-week ban: “That bill attaches when there is a detectable heartbeat for the child.”

That is inaccurate for a couple of reasons. For the first 10 weeks, the correct medical term is “embryo,” not fetus or, as DeSantis said, “child.” Also, as we have written before, a heartbeat isn’t audible at six weeks.

“What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement to us in 2019. “Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

For more, read our Ask SciCheck “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?”

Abortion Ban, Again

Newsom repeatedly claimed that the six-week abortion ban signed by DeSantis in Florida “criminalizes women” who seek abortions. Although he did not respond to that point in the debate, DeSantis has made repeated public statements that that is not the meaning or intent of the law he signed in April.

Newsom and other Democrats have seized on the language of the new law, which would make it a felony for “[a]ny person who willfully performs, or actively participates in, a termination of pregnancy” after six weeks of gestation. They say the inclusion of anyone who “actively participates” might subject women getting an abortion to criminal charges.

As we wrote last month when this issue was raised in an ad from a political action committee tied to Newsom, DeSantis has repeatedly said he does not support penalties against women who get abortions. In an interview with Norah O’Donnell on “CBS Evening News” on Sept. 13, DeSantis said the law he signed — which includes an exception for mothers whose lives are at risk, and delays the abortion ban to 15 weeks for pregnancy caused by rape, incest or human trafficking — only includes criminal penalties for medical providers who perform abortions beyond the deadlines in the law, not the women who get abortions. “We’ve litigated this,” DeSantis said.

In the case of Florida v. Ashley, an unwed Florida teenager was prosecuted for manslaughter and third-degree murder after she shot herself in the abdomen while in the third trimester of pregnancy. She survived, but the fetus did not. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that she could not be criminally prosecuted.

The court noted that the penalty section of a 1993 Florida law limiting abortions in the third trimester stated, “Any person who willfully performs, or participates in, a termination of a pregnancy in violation of the requirements of this section is guilty of a felony of the third degree․” In its opinion, the state Supreme Court noted that “in order to overturn a long standing common law principle,” the state Legislature would have had to enact a statute that explicitly criminalized women who got an abortion in violation of the state statute. “Florida has not done so,” the court wrote.

So, since 1997, Florida has had similar language in its abortion laws, and no women getting abortions in violation of those state laws have been criminally prosecuted.

Nonetheless, on Sept. 15, Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book filed a bill citing ambiguity in the wording of the new law and proposing changes to it to make clear that women getting an abortion cannot be criminally charged. The DeSantis campaign did not respond when we asked if the governor would support Book’s bill.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104. 

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National parties gear up for a massive battle to win George Santos’ seat

Politico -

George Santos' eviction from Congress on Friday kicks off a special election that could be an early indicator of which party has the upper hand in the battle for the House next year.

The race will play out on Long Island, the site of Democrats’ most excruciating 2022 faceplant and the place where Republicans effectively weaponized rising crime rates. The outcome could portend Democratic strength in 2024 — or signal that Republicans’ ascendance there is not a fluke and that the pall of Santos won’t threaten their gains. Democrats, at least, are expected to pour tens of millions into efforts to win back the seat and earn redemption.

“It's going to be the spotlight that everyone is looking at,” said Rep. Greg Meeks, who as Queens Democratic Party chair will help choose a nominee. “We were surprised when we lost the seat in the first place.”

Party bosses have already begun vetting prospective candidates, and they will select their respective nominees ahead of a special election that is expected in February. Democrats appear likely to select Tom Suozzi, the district’s former incumbent who retired from Congress in 2022 to run an unsuccessful primary campaign against Gov. Kathy Hochul. Armed with name ID in a prohibitively expensive media market, he would be a formidable candidate.

The shortlist for the GOP nominee includes Mike Sapraicone, a retired NYPD detective, and Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian-born veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, according to people familiar with the selection process granted anonymity to disclose internal party deliberations. Sapraicone has a long background as a cop and has some ability to self-fund, while Pilip has a compelling personal story that’s especially timely given the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine.

“All eyes are going to be on New York, District Three,” said Sapraicone, who said he has urged Nassau County GOP Chair Joe Cairo to select him. “The chairman knows he needs to win this election and how important it is to the United States, to the Republican Party.”

The midterms in New York last year were a Democratic nightmare, a rare dark spot in an election cycle where the party overperformed. Had Democrats held onto more seats in the blue state of New York, they might have defied the odds and kept their House majority. Losing Santos’ seat was particularly galling because President Joe Biden carried the district by nearly 9 points in 2020.

Republicans tore through Long Island, picking up Santos’s seat and that of Rep. Anthony D’Esposito and cementing total control of the congressional districts there. Three more GOP candidates captured Democratic-leaning territory upstate. All ran heavily on crime-themed messaging.

Democrats spent much of the off-year sifting through what went wrong, especially on Long Island, where Republicans yoked their opponents to the unpopular Hochul and rising crime rates. The special election will offer a chance to test their findings. Party leaders have been working through messaging on abortion, crime and an unpopular cap on local and state tax deductions.

"There have been many, many conversations and autopsies and therapy sessions," said retired Rep. Steve Israel, a former House campaign chair who once represented a version of Santos’ district. “The one thing that's clear is that Long Island has, up to now, been disappointing to Democrats, and it's going to be hard to win back the House without reversing that."

The party's midterm post-mortem looked at areas for improvement. Part of it critiqued voter turnout in diverse communities in the district, according to Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).

Meeks, who also participated in the autopsy, said that Democrats may have focused too much on issues of national significance like abortion rights at the expense of local issues, including the state and local tax deduction (SALT) and rising crime.

"That was what we led with because we knew how significant and important it was and it still is," Meeks said. "But we've also got to emphasize on top of that, what the basic local issues are."

Some of the 2022 baggage will be gone next year. Hochul may have been a drag on Democrats in 2022, when she was running against former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who represented Long Island in Congress and offered down-ballot coattails. But it will be hard for Republicans to yoke Suozzi to her — assuming he is the nominee — after he challenged her last cycle.

And in Congress, Suozzi cut a more moderate profile and had been part of a group of House Democrats who had pushed hard to include a repeal of the SALT deduction cap in their party-line social spending package.

“I’m with Tom Suozzi. We like Tom Suozzi,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), who called him a “law and order candidate.”

The New York districts have also been of particular interest to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his team. Top Democrats have vowed to dedicate considerable resources toward recapturing the Biden-won districts there, some of which are in Jeffries’ own backyard. House Majority PAC, a Democratic group with ties to Jeffries, is also closely watching the race.

“House Majority PAC plans to play a significant role in the NY-03 special election, and we will do whatever it takes to flip this district blue,” the group’s president, Mike Smith, said in a statement.

None of the likely GOP candidates have Suozzi’s name ID — a priceless commodity in the prohibitively expensive New York media market.

In a statement, the National Republican Congressional Committee said it would be “monitoring the district closely in concert with state and county parties” but made no overt commitment to spend. Savannah Viar, a spokesperson for the committee, slammed Democrats’ attempts to gerrymander the state.

For Republicans, the race provides a real chance for them to continue their dominance on Long Island. Local elections in 2023 were a resounding success for them. They won control of the Long Beach City Council, the North Hempstead Town Board and the Suffolk County executive.

“Republicans control pretty much every bit of government from the city line all the way to Montauk,” said D’Esposito, who flipped a Democratic seat on Long Island last fall. “It's clearly no fluke. Nassau County is a bright shade of red.”

But playing in a special election comes at a heavy price for Republicans. They will need to defend several New York districts in fall 2024, and any spending in the special election reduces the funds available later that year.

Plus, voters could hold Republicans responsible for Santos’ laundry list of alleged crimes and falsehoods.

“It makes it tougher,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the chair of the NRCC, conceded of Santos’ legacy, though he cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from a special election held months before November.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

Fetterman re-ups call for ouster of 'more sinister' Menendez amid Santos expulsion

Politico -

Sen. John Fetterman argued Friday that the successful expulsion of George Santos from the House should make clear that Sen. Bob Menendez, who is facing his own legal troubles, should not remain in his Senate seat.

Fetterman (D-Pa.) said on ABC’s “The View” Friday morning that he was “not surprised” Santos (R-N.Y.) was removed from Congress, but noted that “the more important picture is is that we have a colleague in the Senate that actually did much more sinister kinds of things.”

“Senator Menendez needs to go, and if you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate?” Fetterman asked. “He has the right for his day in court and all that but he doesn't have the right to have those kinds of votes and things that — that's not a right. And I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”

Menendez “is really a senator for Egypt, not New Jersey,” Fetterman added.

In a statement to POLITICO, Menendez said "Mr. Fetterman appears to think he’s judge, jury, and executioner. The junior Senator from Pennsylvania seems to be more interested in clickbait than justice."

"He cannot say he stands for core constitutional principles of due process and the presumption of innocence when he is actively working to undermine my rights. I’m confident when all the facts are presented, I will be exonerated and the Senator will have to eat his words,” Menendez continued.

Fetterman has previously called for the New Jersey Democrat's resignation and said that he’d be open to backing Menendez's expulsion, given his refusal to step down. Fetterman’s remarks Friday came after a bipartisan vote to expel Santos after a damning House Ethics Committee report accused the first-term lawmaker of misusing campaign funds.

Menendez was first indicted along with his wife on federal bribery and extortion charges in September for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible and home mortgage payments in exchange for using the senator’s position to benefit the businesspeople and the government of Egypt between 2018 and 2022. In October, federal prosecutors accused him of secretly acting as an agent of the government of Egypt, while serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator has pleaded not guiltyto all charges.

Although other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, have also issued calls for Menendez's resignation over the allegations, Fetterman has repeatedly raised his objections.

In October, Fetterman tweeted “would it be awkward to attend a classified briefing on Israel when you’ve been accused of being a foreign agent for, let’s say, a country like Egypt. Asking for a friend,” in a clear dig at Menendez. In November, Fetterman introduced a resolution that would strip senators indicted on offenses such as mishandling classified information or being a foreign agent of their committee assignments and other privileges.

What potential asylum changes could actually mean for migrants

Politico -

Senators remain at an impasse over immigration policies that may determine the passage of President Joe Biden's funding request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Negotiators plan to stay in touch throughout the weekend, but a deal feels increasingly out of reach, even as the White House pushes senators to forge ahead.

Restricting the asylum system is a top priority for Republicans. West Wing Playbook called Ava Benach, an immigration lawyer of 25 years, to break down what the potential measures being discussed would actually mean for migrants. This conversation has been edited for length.

How would all of this affect asylum seekers? 

They’re definitely looking to make it harder to qualify for asylum. One is a rewriting of the ‘credible fear’ standard that immigrants go through when they’re first screened for asylum eligibility, to make it harder to pass that screening. 

The second thing, I’ve heard, is to restrict the government’s ability to ‘parole’ people into the United States, which is a mechanism that allows the entry of people otherwise ineligible to enter. 

And third, they are trying to put some teeth back into the Safe Third Country agreements that the Trump administration entered into, to force immigrants to demonstrate that they (first) sought asylum somewhere else on their journey to the United States.

What are those credible fear interviews like? 

These are conducted relatively quickly after entry. So you have people that have been journeying to the United States for days, weeks, months, crossing dangerous territories. They are exhausted, confused, terrified. And they have to recount the most traumatic experiences of their life to somebody through a translator — usually without legal assistance — over a video screen. Raising the standard will result in fewer people passing that and being given the opportunity to present that application for asylum.

The Trump administration’s Safe Third Country Agreements were struck down by the courts, and Biden’s so-called transit ban","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2023/02/21/biden-trump-migration-policy-asylum-00083873","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785c10002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785c10003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">so-called transit ban has also faced legal hurdles. Congress could really change the legal landscape.  

When you see lawsuits about immigration law, they’re almost always about actions by the executive and the interpretation by the executive. So if Congress puts it into statute, it becomes a much more legally sound policy. Congress has been deemed to have what’s called plenary power over immigration, meaning it can basically do anything as long as it’s not blatantly, discriminatory, or unconstitutional. 

There’s also a lot of concern about the parole component — I had one former administration official tell me this week that without this power, Biden would lose the central piece of his border management strategy. 

Parole has been a useful tool for the immigration agencies for decades, as a means to address crises and people in danger.

Parole gives the administration the opportunity to look at these folks and make decisions about their entry into the United States, whether they should be detained or whether they should be allowed to enter and go into the community. So the law still is that you can apply for asylum and if you don’t have that parole authority, the only choice you have is to detain, unless you have a “Remain in Mexico","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/mexico-rejects-effort-reinstate-remain-mexico-policy-asylum/story?id=96939554","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785c10004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785c10005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Remain in Mexico” sort of situation.

You’ve criticized the policies being discussed. No one is actually working on a complete overhaul of the immigration system — but in a world where they were, would this change your mind about the specific policies being floated?  

If you’re talking about additional immigrant visas and reduced backlogs, and an immigration system that’s responsive to the needs of American families and businesses — as long as we’re dreaming, I would say sure, restricting the ability to parole people into the United States makes sense where there’s an efficient and reasonable visa system. 

What do you think people are missing in this debate?

There is what I think is a misguided belief that they will be able to deter people from showing up at the border — from fleeing violent and dangerous and hopeless situations. And that they can be deterred by the prospect of not having legal status, of being detained. 

The knee-jerk approach, in my opinion, is always more harshness and more cruelty will solve the problem. But when you’re dealing with a situation where your kids’ lives are at risk, and it’s dangerous just to walk out your door, people are going to take some extreme measures despite the potential consequences.

I’ve said since I started practicing 25 years ago that the single biggest cause of illegal migration is the lack of opportunities for legal migration.

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What Sandra Day O’Connor Could Teach Today’s Supreme Court

Politico -

For much of her tenure, the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the most important vote on the Supreme Court.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, she voted with the majority in more closely decided cases than any other judge on the bench. The first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court — it took only 190 years after the tribunal first docketed a case in 1791 — was in effect also the most influential justice on the court, because she stood at its ideological center. Her run as the","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.stanfordlawreview.org/print/article/super-medians/","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">the swing vote, particularly from 1999 to 2005, was longer than any other post-war justice — and came to an end only because she chose to retire to care for her ailing husband.

On many questions, O’Connor surely fulfilled the expectations of Republicans who pressed President Ronald Reagan to appoint her in 1981. A former state senator and Senate majority leader in Arizona, O’Connor was a zealous steward of the states’ rights. Her vote and voice shaped a series of cases curtailing Congress’ power, especially when it came to the enforcement of civil rights of those employed by state or local governments. When it came to race and equality, her opinions took key steps toward the unforgiving stance adopted by the Roberts Court — although O’Connor herself was far less dogmatic on affirmative action than her successors on the bench. Of course, she stayed aligned with most of her fellow Republican appointees in Bush v. Gore.

But in other important ways, O’Connor eschewed a facile ideological template that would lend itself to easy forecasting. For her critics, her approach to the law could seem erratic and unpredictable. For those looking more closely, however, her decisions and her reasoning demonstrated a constant attention to the proper role of the Supreme Court as a nonpartisan arbiter of hot-button issues in American life, to the actual facts about the actual parties, and to the way in which the bench’s rulings would be experienced by the American public.

Hers was a humane, pragmatic jurisprudence — qualities that are too often lacking in today’s Supreme Court. These values were embodied in her approach not just to high-salience issues such as abortion, but also in somewhat less noticed disputes about the Fourth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It’s a legacy worth spotlighting.

Inevitably, the decision that will be most recalled today is the plurality opinion O’Connor penned along with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/505/833","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In Casey, the Republican-appointed judges decided not to use their sheer force of numbers to overrule Roe v. Wade, and it stands in stark contrast to the work of President Donald Trump’s three appointees in Dobbs","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.oyez.org/cases/2021/19-1392","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0008","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db0009","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Dobbs v. Jacksonville","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.oyez.org/cases/2021/19-1392","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db000c","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785db000d","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">v. Jacksonville Women’s Health","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.oyez.org/cases/2021/19-1392","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785dc0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785dc0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Women’s Health.

Casey matters not only because of its effect on reproductive freedoms, but for what it says about how the justices choose either to sustain or undermine the rule of law. O’Connor understood how important it was that citizens didn’t perceive their rights to turn on the impenetrable uncertainties of who got elected, who died, who resigned, and who could get through the Senate.

O’Connor explained why she would not just vote her own politics in the (much maligned) first line of her Casey opinion: “Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt.” Here, she echoes thinking about the rule of law going back to Aristotle. Simply put, a legal system diminishes liberty by the sheer fact of being unpredictably open to the whims of particular officials. O’Connor would later go on to champion the rule of law, but her insight into how the court must behave if legality is to be preserved is most powerfully on display in Casey.

At the same time, O’Connor was capable of profound empathy for the actual litigants before the court. Consider a little-noticed case that, in practice, deeply shapes Americans’ experience with police. Atwater v. City of Lago Vista","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-1408.ZO.html","_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785dc0005","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-27e5-d02e-a5fd-67e785dc0006","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Atwater v. City of Lago Vista asked whether a police officer could spitefully take advantage of a minor traffic misdemeanor (failure to wear a seat belt) to arrest a woman, separating her from her minor children. The court said “yes,” over a vigorous dissent by O’Connor.

Atwater is one of those “minor” cases that, on the ground, is incredibly consequential: It surely matters to many people whether they can be locked up because they fail to use their seat belt. The court’s ruling gave police a startling and destabilizing new power over citizens. O’Connor’s eloquent and passionate dissent captured the far-reaching way in which the court’s ruling shook the life not just of Gail Atwater but of millions of Americans on the road.

Finally, when it came to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state, O’Connor was no less sensitive to people’s direct experiences with the law. In her view, the government violated religious neutrality by taking sides improperly in the religion-inflected culture wars if an “objective observer” would perceive “a state endorsement” of faith.

Here, O’Connor took seriously the idea that government favoritism between religions, and between the devout and the secular, can be destabilizing. She understood the potential for people to feel stigmatized and excluded by such religious partisanship. And her approach to the law centered those concerns by literally demanding that judges take the perspective of the citizen facing a seemingly biased state.

The strategy of the Roberts Court, however, has been strikingly different. There is no case during the Roberts Court in which the Establishment Clause has provided the necessary basis for invalidating a government practice. Rejecting claims under the Clause, the Roberts Court has also played fast and loose with facts in ways that would have seemed quite alien to O’Connor. The overall effect, a leading scholar of the First Amendment recently wrote, is that the court is “disestablishing” that part of the First Amendment — making it, in effect, a second-class right.

There is, of course, much in O’Connor’s record with which a person on the left or the right will disagree: That’s perhaps the inevitable result of being open to the facts of each new case, and empathetic to the experiences of their litigants. Yet if unpredictability is the cost for such fidelity to law and seriousness about justice, it’s hard to see why the price is not worth paying.

A federal TikTok ban appears doomed by Montana ruling

Politico -

The federal judge who blocked Montana’s blanket ban on TikTok may have just created an opening for lawmakers in Washington trying to think bigger than one social media app.

Judge Donald Molloy’s Thursday ruling technically only stalls Montana’s plans to block the popular video-sharing app for its residents starting in the new year. But several experts said the decision — which found the law to be a violation of the First Amendment — likely foreclosed on the idea of a broad, nationwide ban of TikTok or that copycat bills would move in other states.

Banning the app, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is a popular China-bashing message conservatives put in the spotlight during last month’s Republican presidential debate. And Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said the law — which would fine app stores $10,000 if they continued offering the app to customers — was aimed at protecting residents from foreign influence by the Chinese Communist Party.

Instead, what the ruling has sparked is some hope among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill convinced that a more nuanced approach that doesn’t just target a single platform was always needed.

“The court ruling demonstrates the legal and constitutional difficulties an outright ban faces,” said Ryan Wrasse, a spokesperson for Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is pushing a bipartisan bill to give the administration more power to block technologies tied to foreign adversaries like China and Russia. “Without meaningful action, foreign-adversary-owned technologies like TikTok aren’t going away, and Congress needs to take these national security threats head on without delay.”

For now, TikTok, which is used by more than 150 million Americans, is here to stay. The Biden administration’s national security review of TikTok remains tied up over a disagreement on whether to force a sale of the platform. And on Capitol Hill, efforts to enact an outright ban on TikTok over national security concerns stalled long before lawmakers started to approach the holiday season. But some experts weren’t surprised by these difficulties or by the ruling itself.

“Whenever anyone uses the word ban, I know they're not serious, because you can't ban TikTok,” said James Lewis, the director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding it would be unconstitutional and constrain speech.

Gianforte’s office, nor the office of Republican state Sen. Shelley Vance, who authored the TikTok ban legislation, responded to requests for comment.

The RESTRICT Act, from Thune and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), has the backing of the Biden administration and would give the executive branch authorities they lacked when a similar effort to ban TikTok by the Trump administration was blocked by two federal judges in 2020.

Rachel Cohen, a Warner spokesperson, said the RESTRICT Act is “carefully drafted to be constitutional.”

But the RESTRICT Act has faced Republican blowback over claims it gives the Biden administration too much power. It would also have to go through the Senate Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who is writing her own foreign adversary tech bill this Congress.

“Crafting legislation that can withstand court scrutiny is one of Sen. Cantwell’s primary goals,” Tricia Enright, a Cantwell spokesperson, told POLITICO. They are continuing to work on the bill text, but didn’t provide a timeline for introduction.

Outright TikTok ban bills, like those from China hawks such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), seem even more suspect after Molloy’s ruling.

While Rubio remained confident in his ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act, telling POLITICO, “The Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have a constitutional right to conduct influence operations in the United States,” his bill hasn’t moved since it was introduced in February.

It was because federal efforts to ban TikTok stalled that states like Montana took action in passing a law in May banning the app for its 1.1 million residents — a move TikTok and its creators sued soon after.

Montana’s office of the attorney general said they’re still reviewing their options, which could include an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data,” the office said.

Montana’s “likelihood of success is slim to none,” said Clay Calvert, a nonresident senior fellow in technology policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “This is not good for the federal government if it attempts to adopt an outright ban of TikTok.”

5th Circuit rules Texas must remove river border buoys

Politico -

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that Texas must remove a series of buoys in its river border with Mexico that had generated a wave of backlash from immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Texas’ request to overrule a federal district judge, who ordered the state in September to remove the controversial barrier. Judge Dana Douglas, an appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote in the panel’s majority opinion that the district judge had appropriately “considered the threat to navigation and federal government operations on the Rio Grande, as well as the potential threat to human life the floating barrier created.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott first deployed the barrier — a roughly 1,000-foot stretch of orange spherical buoys connected by heavy metal cables, complete with an anti-dive net beneath it — in early July and subsequently claimed that it had deterred thousands of people from crossing. The Department of Justice sued the state, arguing that it obstructed U.S. waterways in violation of federal environmental law.

In September, U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra, an appointee of Ronald Reagan, ruled that the buoys likely obstructed the flow of the Rio Grande in a way that required congressional authorization. That reasoning derives from an 1899 law called the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act, which requires federal approval for obstructions built in navigable waters.

Abbott said the circuit court’s decision was “completely wrong” and that he and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would seek an immediate en banc hearing — which, if granted, would convene all the court judges to rehear the case.

“We’ll go to SCOTUS if needed to protect Texas from Biden’s open borders,” the governor wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

The 5th Circuit, considered the most conservative appeals court in the country, placed a temporary stay on the district judge’s decision shortly after it was issued as it further evaluated the case.

The buoys generated an uproar from the state’s Democratic lawmakers and human rights advocates, which argued that it threatened the lives of migrants who were crossing the river to seek asylum. Texas state troopers found a dead body lodged in the buoys in early August, and the Mexican government has also criticized the buoys, arguing that they violated international water rights.

The barrier is part of Abbott’s larger sweeping state-led program dubbed Operation Lone Star. His project, which has proceeded for more than two years, aims to unleash state administrative power to curtail the flow of migrants into Texas in the face of what he and other Republicans argue is a failure of the Biden administration to secure the border.

The governor and his Republican allies say that the barrier remains a vital defense to an uncontrollable influx of migrants crossing the barrier. In court, his legal team has also pressed an argument that the Rio Grande is not navigable, since it lacks commercial traffic, which would thus make federal authorization under the aforementioned law for obstructing a regulated waterway unnecessary.

“Curiously, the district court tried to spin the river’s naturally treacherous conditions as evidence that the barrier is dangerous. The majority opinion also makes that logical leap, but I cannot,” Judge Don Willett, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote in a dissenting opinion. “More than a century of precedent points to only one conclusion: This 1,000-foot segment is not navigable.”

‘No indicators’ Israel shared Hamas war plans with U.S.

Politico -

There are no indications Israel shared secret Hamas war plans laying out a detailed blueprint for the Oct. 7 attacks with the U.S. intelligence community, according to three U.S. officials.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Israeli officials obtained Hamas’ battle plan for the Oct. 7 attacks, codenamed “Jericho Wall,” more than a year before it occurred, but dismissed it as beyond the militant group’s capabilities.

Officials told the Times that if the Israeli military had taken the roughly 40-page document more seriously, they could have prevented the attacks, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis and led Israel to launch a devastating invasion of Gaza. But Israel ignored warning signs as recent as July, including a daylong Hamas training exercise that mirrored the war plan, according to the report.

Though the U.S. and Israel have a close intelligence relationship, Israel does not appear to have shared the secret battle plans with U.S. intelligence officials, according to the current and former officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.

“There are no indicators at this time that the IC was provided the purported ‘Jericho Wall’ document reported last night by the New York Times,” said one U.S. official, cautioning that “The IC will certainly continue to review its information.”

A U.S. lawmaker and a former U.S. official also confirmed that Israeli officials did not provide the plans to the U.S. intelligence community.

“It’s very problematic” that Israel didn’t share the document, the former official said.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said he could not confirm the Times report, and referred to Israel for comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment.

But top Biden administration officials have previously said explicitly that the U.S. had no knowledge that Hamas was planning an attack of this scale.

“If we had those indications, we would share them with Israel,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in Brussels in October. “But to my knowledge, we did not see that.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters on Friday, said the Biden administration is focused on ensuring Hamas cannot repeat the attacks.

“There is going to be plenty of opportunity for a full accounting of what happened on Oct. 7, including looking back to see what happened, who knew what when, and Israel’s been very clear about that,” Blinken said.

On Capitol Hill, members of the Senate and House intelligence committees have received several briefings about the Oct. 7 attack, according to a congressional aide familiar with the matter.

In at least one of those closed-door conversations, members were told that Israel had been aware about the potential for a Hamas attack from Gaza. But those readouts did not include the specific details of the Jericho Wall document, said the aide.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Democrats, have in recent weeks raised questions about the extent to which the Biden administration relies on Israel for intelligence about Hamas.

The U.S. has long held an intelligence-sharing relationship with Mossad, which has previously established a robust data-collection operation on Hamas in Gaza. But following Israel’s failure to detect and stop the attack in real-time, some members of Congress and officials inside the administration have questioned whether Washington should continue to depend so heavily on Israel for intelligence related to the terrorist group.

Alexander Ward contributed to this report.

What Gazans Really Think of Hamas

Real Clear Politics -

For nearly a generation, media owned by Qatar and Iran have tag-teamed with Hamas to paint a false picture of ideological uniformity across Gaza. While Hamas quashed opposition to their rule, Al Jazeera and other mouthpieces platformed the terror group's leaders and shills.

Trump’s Georgia trial should be kicked to 2029 if he wins the election, his lawyer says

Politico -

If Donald Trump wins the 2024 election, he can’t face a criminal trial in Georgia until at least 2029 — after he leaves the presidency — his Atlanta-based defense attorney argued Friday.

“I believe that the [Constitution’s] supremacy clause and his duties as president of the United States — this trial would not take place at all until after his term in office,” said Steve Sadow, Trump’s defense lawyer in the racketeering case in which the former president and many of his allies are charged with conspiring to subvert Georgia’s certification of the presidential election in 2020.

Sadow’s comment came as the judge queried lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants about the timing of a potential trial. By alluding to the supremacy clause, Sadow was invoking the principle that state interests must generally yield to federal duties. How that principle would apply to a state’s attempt to prosecute a sitting president is an untested constitutional question.

On the other hand, Sadow sharply protested a proposal by Fulton County prosecutors to begin the trial in August 2024, saying that would amount to “election interference” by keeping Trump off the campaign trail for the final months of the election.

“Can you imagine the notion of the Republican nominee for president not being able to campaign for the presidency because he is, in some form or fashion, in a courtroom defending himself?” Sadow said during a court hearing in Atlanta. “That would be the most effective election interference in the history of the United States, and I don’t think anyone would want to be in that position.”

“Everyone recognizes that he’s far ahead in the polls to be the Republican nominee,” Sadow added.

Trump is facing three other criminal cases, all of which are slated to go to trial next year — though Trump hopes to delay all of them. His federal trial for election interference and his New York trial for hush money payments are both scheduled for March, and his federal trial for hoarding classified records is scheduled for May.

Friday’s hearing was the first time Trump’s legal team had weighed in on the timing of the Georgia case in front of the judge, Scott McAfee. It underscored the delicate calculus McAfee will have to undertake to balance the need to advance the criminal process with the likelihood that Trump will be his party’s nominee in 2024.

McAfee gave no hints as to how he might rule on that question, but acknowledged the thorniness of the issue, at one point asking prosecutors if the trial would constitute “election interference” if it was in session on Election Day.

Fulton County prosecutor Nathan Wade disputed Sadow’s contention, arguing that trying Trump in August “does not constitute election interference” but rather would be “moving forward with the business of Fulton County.”

“I don’t think that it in any way impedes defendant Trump’s ability to campaign or do whatever he needs to do in order to seek office,” Wade said.

Sadow said other factors could also lead to delays. He indicated that Trump plans to file a motion in January asking to throw the case against him out on grounds that he’s immune from prosecution because he was president at the time of the events in question. If that motion is denied, Trump’s defense will seek to appeal and could seek review by the Georgia Supreme Court, Sadow said.

McAfee said he did not plan to make any decision on a trial date Friday and he signaled he would likely not do so until sometime next year.

My Opponents Are Cowards

Real Clear Politics -

We are absolutely in a war with the fate of the country at stake. And you had better know it. You know you are in a war when there is no middle ground, no room to compromise.


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