Political Animal

The Administration’s Response to School Shootings: Punish Black and Brown Students

Following the shooting at Parkland last February, Trump appointed a commission to make recommendations on school safety. It will come as a surprise to no one that the report issued by the commission on Tuesday recommends that individual schools and states consider arming teachers, but excludes any reference to the common sense gun safety measures advocated by student survivors.

Beyond the commission’s recommendations about guns (or lack thereof), the most specific policy proposal aims to jumpstart the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color.

The report’s primary federal recommendation—to rescind the controversial Obama-era racial discipline guidelines—became a cause célèbre for some on the right, after reports emerged showing that school officials were aware that the Parkland gunman had exhibited clearly troubling behavior, including drinking gasoline, cutting himself and owning a gun he intended to use.

The guidelines, published in 2014, had long been the focus of conservative dislike, and Mrs. DeVos had targeted them for elimination even before the Parkland shooting. The policy warned schools to ensure they weren’t suspending or expelling black and Hispanic students at higher rates than their white peers, and suggested models schools could adopt to reduce their reliance on punishment.

Let’s cut to the chase and deal with some facts. If the purpose of these recommendations was to prevent school shootings, it is important to keep in mind that the offenders have overwhelmingly been white males. Rolling back the previous administration’s efforts to address the fact that students of color are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and/or arrested represents nothing more than a racist distraction from the issue this commission was supposed to address.

When the Obama administration initiated their efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline, this is the problem they had identified:

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

At the time, Sec. of Education Arne Duncan correctly called this the civil rights issue of our generation.

Back in 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder gave the commencement address at Maryland’s Morgan State University. It came on the heels of Cliven Bundy’s remarks about African Americans being better off during slavery and LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks to his girlfriend. Here is how Holder responded to those incidents:

Over the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen occasional, jarring reminders of the discrimination – and the isolated, repugnant, racist views – that in some places have yet to be overcome. These incidents have received substantial media coverage. And they have rightly been condemned by leaders, commentators, and citizens from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done – because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized…

Codified segregation of public schools has been barred since Brown. But in too many of our school districts, significant divisions persist and segregation has reoccurred – including zero-tolerance school discipline practices that, while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers.

First of all, let’s note that Holder was ahead of his time in using Hillary Clinton’s infamous word “deplorable” to describe those examples of overt racism. But his remarks are extremely applicable to what is happening in this country today.

When Donald Trump or some other Republican utters something deplorable, it captures national attention and even some conservatives are forced to distance themselves from that kind of overt racism. But the recommendations from this school safety commission are exactly the kind of thing Holder was referring to when he talked about things that happen away from screaming headlines that are more subtle, but cut deeper.

Feeding more black and brown students into the school-to-prison pipeline won’t get a fraction of the attention we all paid to the president’s remarks about “shithole” countries. But Donald Trump and his administration aren’t guilty of simply saying racist things. Every day they are putting those words into action in a way that is cruel and harmful to people of color. That is the real outrage.

Roger Stone Adds Shilling for the Chinese to His List of Sins

You can watch this segment from Alex Jones’s InfoWars to see why Roger Stone was just successfully sued in the Southern District of Florida for defamation. To avoid a negative verdict, Stone reached an unusual settlement.

I can’t really unwrap the insanity involved, but the case was brought by a Chinese dissident named Guo Wengui. The anglicized version of his name is Miles Kwok. Stone claimed that Kwok was a former Chinese intelligence officer who betrayed his country, committed sexual crimes, became a tool of George Soros, a bundler for Hillary Clinton, and a financial supporter of Steve Bannon’s supposed presidential ambitions.

According to Stone, President Trump had initially agreed to extradite Kwok back to China during a meeting with Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago but Bannon intervened. From what I can tell, this was part of a coordinated attack on Bannon that came in response to the January 5, 2018 publication of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury for which Bannon served as a key source. However, it’s clear from the lawsuit that Stone began attacking Kwok several months prior to that.

There are other confusing aspects to this case, but here are some of the terms Stone agreed to:

The agreement requires Mr. Stone to run ads in national newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, apologizing for making defamatory statements about a Chinese businessman who is a vocal critic of Beijing. It also requires Mr. Stone to publish a retraction of the false statements on social media. Doing so exempts him from paying any of the damages.

In a text message, Mr. Stone described his conduct as “irresponsible” and added that “I am solely responsible for fulfilling the terms of the settlement.”

He actually blames Sam Nunberg for giving him bad information, but there’s obviously something else going on here:

Mr. Guo drew scrutiny from Beijing in 2017 after he launched a high-stakes social media campaign alleging wrongdoing and corruption by China’s political and business elites. Beijing declared Mr. Guo a criminal suspect and requested an Interpol arrest notice against him, while Mr. Guo applied for asylum in the U.S., making him a flashpoint in China-U.S. relations.

Mr. Guo became a target of Mr. Stone’s a few months after launching his campaign, according to the lawsuit. In an interview last month Mr. Guo claimed that Mr. Stone was paid to make the defamatory remarks about him on InfoWars. He said the payment ultimately came from a Chinese-American media tycoon named Bruno Wu, whom Mr. Guo previously accused of being a spy for the Chinese government. Mr. Wu has filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Guo for these and other claims.

Mr. Stone’s settlement identifies Mr. Wu as “the apparent source of the information” about Mr. Guo and says it was conveyed to him by a former member of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Stone said he should not have relied on the former staffer, Sam Nunberg, for the information. Both Mr. Nunberg and Mr. Wu declined to comment.

Nunberg is most famous for getting drunk on March 6, 2018 before making numerous appearances on cable television to argue that he would never cooperate with a subpoena from Robert Mueller or implicate Roger Stone before a grand jury.

Of course, Nunberg sobered up the next day and agreed to cooperate.

It appears that Stone is saying that Nunberg was paid by a Chinese-American media tycoon named Bruno Wu to convince Stone to spread lies about Miles Kwok on InfoWars.  According to the suit, Stone was paid as well, although he doesn’t appear to make that admission.

Maybe the attack on Bannon was just piggy-backed onto the original contract since it’s doubtful that Mr. Wu had any interest in defaming Bannon.

The whole episode is bizarre enough on its own, but it’s even more bananas because Stone and Nunberg were engaged in this behavior at a time when they were both under intense investigation and probably subject to surveillance. Under those circumstances, why would they embark on a crazy plan to do the bidding of Xi Jinping and try to get a Chinese dissident seeking asylum extradited?

That they managed to turn it into an opportunity to destroy Bannon’s reputation on the right is just gravy.

This Russiagate story just keeps getting better and better.

Michael Flynn’s Very Bad Day in Court

As you know, if you’ve been reading Political Animal, I’ve been trying to debunk the right-wing talking points suggesting that Michael Flynn was wrongly prosecuted for more than a year.  I’ve written more pieces about  Michael Flynn than anyone involved in the Russia case, with the possible exception of Paul Manafort. So, I took great satisfaction on Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan absolutely raked Flynn over the coals during his sentencing hearing.

In particular, Judge Sullivan took strong exception to the exact thing I have been complaining about, which is the suggestion that Flynn was somehow set up by the FBI and should never have been charged with lying to its agents. What caused this backlash was a highly questionable decision by Flynn’s lawyers to inject right-wing talking points into their filing asking for leniency.  It was a wholly unnecessary move. Based on Flynn’s extensive cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel, his lack of prior offenses, and his decades of (mostly) distinguished military service, the OSC was recommending no jail time.  Based on the sentencing guidelines, which called for a term of incarceration of 0-6 months, there was a very real prospect that Flynn would pay a fine, do some community service and get a period of supervised probation, but otherwise walk away unscathed.

In an indication of how divorced the Republicans have become from reality, several right-wing media outlets spent Monday evening speculating that Judge Sullivan might even throw out Flynn’s guilty plea entirely because he would ultimately agree that Flynn had been entrapped.  That did not happen.

Instead, Sullivan tore into Flynn and his lawyers. He almost bizarrely put Flynn under oath before demanding that he admit his guilt and deny all the right-wing talking points which have recently been repeated by the president himself. He forced Flynn to admit that he knew he was wrong to lie to the FBI and that there had been no misconduct in how his interviews were conducted. He acknowledged that any possible wrongdoing then-Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and counterintelligence official Peter Strzok may have committed in other areas had no bearing on his responsibility to be truthful to federal agents.

Judge Sullivan openly questioned whether Flynn could have been charged with treason for operating as an undeclared agent of a foreign power while serving as National Security Advisor, suggested that Flynn had dishonored the flag that was displayed in the courtroom, and said “arguably you sold your country out.”

He also asked Flynn’s lawyers how their filing was consistent with the client taking responsibility for his actions and advised them that they might want to delay sentencing since he was not inclined to let Flynn avoid incarceration.

After a request for a recess was granted to Flynn’s team, they came back and agreed to a ninety-day delay in sentencing. It appears that Sullivan was concerned that Flynn might not have fulfilled his obligation to cooperate or might cease his cooperation once sentenced. He questioned the prosecutors on this point and was told that is was “possible” that Flynn might not be done cooperating. In any case, he clearly wasn’t satisfied that Flynn had done enough.

Of course, what’s so strange about this is that the Office of Special Counsel was prepared to see Flynn get off with probation today and was not requesting anything from the judge. That had expressed their clear displeasure with the filing Flynn’s lawyers submitted, but they had not tried to back out of the deal or backtrack on their recommendation of no jail time.

It seems to me that Flynn’s lawyers did a bad disservice to their client by trying to help President Trump. Trump’s team has been infiltrating all these Russia-based cases by signing defense cooperation agreements, and it looks like they succeeded in convincing Flynn’s lawyers to inject right-wing conspiracy language into an official court filing.

This obviously backfired in spectacular fashion. Now Flynn is in limbo for another ninety days and has been branded a traitor by a federal judge in a case where he was only accused of lying.

I could not be more satisfied with this result.

Will Congressional Republicans Remain on Trump’s Sinking Ship?

During Trump’s catastrophic Oval Office meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, the soon-to-be Speaker challenged the president to bring up his border wall funding in the House, claiming he doesn’t have the votes, even before Democrats take control in January. As it turns out, she was right.

House Republicans last week considered putting legislation on the floor that would offer $5 billion for a border wall as Trump has demanded. But Hill leadership eventually told the president that there were not enough votes to pass it, as two top Democrats had already told Trump in a remarkable Oval Office encounter last week.

In response, Jonathan Cohn suggested a new rule for politicians: “Never start a land war in Asia. Never get into a vote counting war with Nancy Pelosi.”

However, the man who prides himself on being an expert in “the art of the deal” dug his hole even deeper with this:

TRUMP: And I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.

As any novice negotiator could have warned, this is the result of his bluster:

Confident that they will skirt blame for any government shutdown, Democrats have become more hardened in their resolve to deny Trump the additional border security money that he called for in a string of weekend tweets.

But it gets even worse. Congressional Republicans have no idea what the president will ultimately agree to and there are no plans to avoid a government shutdown.

Following a meeting of Senate Republican leaders Monday evening, Cornyn said that “if there is” a plan to avoid a shutdown, “I’m not aware of it.”…

Senior Senate Republicans held a series of meetings Monday in the office of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) but had little insight as to what Trump would actually do — or sign.

Asked what kind of spending bill Trump would support, Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded: “We don’t know that.”

A Monday evening meeting of McConnell and his top deputies also yielded little, with senior Republicans unaware of where exactly the White House stands. During the meeting, McConnell told other GOP senators that he had no information, and — referring to the White House — said “we’re waiting for them,” according to a senator in attendance.

Since government funding legislation is supposed to originate in the House, it appears that McConnell might be content to lay this one at Paul Ryan’s doorstep for the Speaker’s last hurrah.

The Senate has no plans to take up a government spending measure before the House does, and pressure may begin to build on lawmakers and Trump only as Washington nears the Friday shutdown deadline.

In the end, Trump has set up a scenario where the government could shut down over funding for his wall and ensured that the entire country knows that he is responsible. Congressional Republicans are very aware of the fact that the blame will extend to them, unless they distance themselves from the president’s ultimatum. That is not something they have been willing to do in the past.

It is still very possible that Trump will cave on this one—all while suggesting he didn’t and blaming others—but you have to wonder how long congressional Republicans are going to be willing to tie their fate to the impulsive whims of the disgruntled toddler who now occupies the White House.

That question becomes more salient with news from a trusted GOP pollster.

President Trump’s relentless focus on immigration in the midterm elections cost the Republican Party control of the House of Representatives, according to a blistering after-action review produced a by leading GOP pollster.

The findings from David Winston raise questions about Trump’s political position heading into 2020. That’s because the issue he most often discusses on the stump, border security and the migrant caravan, were big losers with critical voting blocs, and largely responsible for the late-breaking Democratic wave that swept Republicans from power in the House, according to Winston.

Winston’s data is influential because he is a longtime polling and policy analyst for Republican leaders in Congress…Winston, a veteran strategist who advised Newt Gingrich during his tenure as speaker of the House in the 1990s, produces a postmortem after every major election.

Whether or not you assume that Winston’s conclusions have any merit, it is the information congressional Republicans are receiving from a trusted source. To the extent they listen to him, this information could be critical in considering their prospects for re-election in 2020.

In the run-up to the 2018 midterms, much was made of the structural hurdles Democrats faced in the Senate with so many of their members up for re-election. When it comes to 2020, that table flips with Republicans having 22 seats to defend. A president who isn’t interested in appealing to any voters beyond his white xenophobic base and throws temper tantrums rather than govern could be a huge liability to Republican Senators in states like Colorado, Maine, Iowa, Arizona, and North Carolina, which have all be trending at least purple if not blue. Even Majority Leader McConnell could be in trouble in Kentucky.

All of that is true even before we get to the mounds of investigations the president faces on everything from his campaign to his administration to his businesses.

Beyond Donald Trump’s ignorance, mendacity, and criminality, the most vexing part of the last two years has been watching congressional Republicans not only fail to hold the president and his administration accountable, but to support him in almost everything he says and does. What I have just provided is evidence about why that is increasingly becoming a liability to their careers, which could be the last straw. Given their lack of interest in governing on behalf of the people, Republicans have demonstrated over and over again that their only concern is to maintain power. Will they eventually break with the president when he continues to be a liability rather than an asset? We might soon find out.

UPDATE: It will come as no surprise to anyone that Trump caved on his threat to shut the government down over funding for his wall, claiming that he’ll find “other ways” to pay for it.