By Robert A. Vella
Here we go again, folks. You might want to add a couple of shots of bourbon to your morning coffee.
Mueller’s mystery witness and a Butina update
Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be locked in a subpoena battle with a recalcitrant witness Friday in a sealed federal appeals courtroom, the latest development in a mystery case that has piqued the curiosity of Mueller-obsessives and scoop-hungry journalists.
Oral arguments in the highly secretive fight played out behind closed doors under tight security. Officials at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C. even took the extraordinary measure of shutting down to the public the entire fifth floor, where the hearing was taking place.
More than a dozen reporters who had been staked out in the hallway adjacent to the courtroom — in the hopes of eyeballing attorneys for Mueller or the mystery appellant’s lawyers — were kicked off the floor and lost their best chance to spot anyone involved in the months-long legal dispute as they were entering or exiting the chambers.
Confessed Russian spy Maria Butina may be gearing up to testify in another trial, according to sealed court papers briefly made public on Friday.
Federal prosecutors in Washington, DC filed a motion to file under seal, prosecutors asked to file an authorization for transportation in secrecy so that Butina could testify in an unspecified “pending criminal investigation.” The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu first discovered and published a portion of the document on Twitter.
More White House turmoil
Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget Director who President Donald Trump tweeted Friday would serve as acting chief of staff after John Kelly departs in January, has been a loyal Trump supporter — he just didn’t always like it so much.
After decrying the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a liberal who would take the country in the wrong direction, Mulvaney said he was supporting Trump, essentially by default.
“Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump, but I’m doing so despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being,” he said, according to a report in The State newspaper.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will depart amid growing controversy over allegations that he violated ethics rules.
Zinke’s departure as head of the agency that oversees federal land, wildlife, American Indian relations comes as Democrats prepare to take over as the majority in the House, where they’ll have subpoena power for investigations.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman, is under more than a dozen investigations for his conduct in office, including scrutiny for a land deal involving a foundation he led and a company backed by David Lesar, chairman of oilfield services company Halliburton.
When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.
It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.
The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.
During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a sweeping package of Republican legislation Friday that restricts early voting and weakens the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, brushing aside complaints that he is enabling a brazen power grab and ignoring the will of voters.
Signing the bills just 24 days before he leaves office, the Republican governor and one-time presidential candidate downplayed bipartisan criticism that they amount to a power grab that will stain his legacy.
Just two hours later, a group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced it planned legal action to block the limitation on early voting.
Walker’s action Friday came as Michigan’s Rick Snyder, another Midwestern GOP governor soon to be replaced by a Democrat, signed legislation in a lame-duck session that significantly scales back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that began as citizen initiatives. Michigan’s Republican legislators also are weighing legislation resembling Wisconsin’s that would strip or dilute the authority of incoming elected Democrats.
U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl will resign from the U.S. Senate on Dec. 31, The Arizona Republic has confirmed, setting up a second appointment by Gov. Doug Ducey to the seat once occupied by the late John McCain.
There is intense interest from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for Ducey to appoint outgoing Rep. Martha McSally, the Republican who lost to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema for Arizona’s other U.S. Senate seat. Sinema will be sworn into office Jan. 3.
Republican donors spent millions of dollars on McSally’s election effort and likely want to see that investment pay dividends. Ducey and McSally met recently, but it is unclear if there was discussion about a Senate appointment.
Court ruling on Obamacare
The decision will be immediately appealed, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led several blue states in intervening to defend the ACA. It could ultimately become the third major Obamacare case to be taken up by the Supreme Court, which has twice voted to uphold the law.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee in Fort Worth, Texas, issued the decision gutting the law in response to a lawsuit from 20 conservative-led states that sought to have the Affordable Care Act tossed out. They successfully argued that the mandate penalty was a critical linchpin of the law and that without it, the entire frameworks is rendered unconstitutional.
Republicans zeroed out the mandate penalty as part of their 2017 overhaul of the tax code, after failing throughout last year to repeal and replace the ACA in full. The penalty is slated to disappear next year.
Many legal experts are skeptical that the lawsuit will ultimately succeed — including Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the last major legal challenge to Obamacare. Adler on Friday night tweeted that O’Connor’s opinion was “completely unmoored from the relevant legal authorities and doctrine.”