It’s easy to forget how crazy this is. Every week of Donald Trump’s presidency has felt like its own self-contained saga, but even by those dramatic standards, it’s almost incomprehensible that the President’s impeachment acquittal was only nine days ago.
The acquittal was built into one of the busiest weeks of the year, on the heels of the botched Iowa caucuses and what could be Trump’s final State of the Union address, so perhaps the vote whereby Republicans in the Senate saved their President did not imprint in the way it should.
Or maybe it’s just that the Trump administration has generated so much drama in the intervening week-and-change that it’s hard to remember back that far. We are all living Memento. Here just a sampling what you probably already forgot about this week:
February 5: Trump is acquitted. Romney shocks with vote to convict. Other Republicans say Trump has learned his lesson.
February 6: Trump claims “total acquittal” at a wild and rambling news conference in the White House, lashes out at Romney, pushes conspiracy theories.
February 7: The administration cleans house at the National Security Council, firing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother and escorting them from the White House. Also fired: US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland even though a handful of Republican senators tried to dissuade him. It’s clear Trump is seeking retribution for impeachment. Democrats spar at a contentious New Hampshire debate. Amy Klobuchar gains some momentum, further splintering the moderate wing.
February 8: On Twitter, Trump defends firing Vindman.
February 9: CNN reports there will be a further staff purge and permanent cuts at the National Security Council.
February 10: Trump proposes a budget that assumes unrealistic growth, ignores deficit warnings and recommends cuts to government services like Medicaid and Medicare. At a rally in New Hampshire, he encourages Republicans to meddle in the Democratic primary despite the state’s rules. Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy starts to get backlash.
February 11: Trump tweets that Roger Stone should get a lighter sentence and shortly thereafter, the DOJ makes a similar recommendation — overruling its prosecutors, who quit the case. A former US attorney’s nomination is put on hold and it all leads to questions about Trump’s influence over the justice system. Bernie Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary, but with only a quarter of the vote.
February 12: Criticism of Trump’s influence over the DOJ continues. He claims no pressure on the DOJ despite his tweets.
February 13: Attorney General Bill Barr lashes out at his boss for tweeting about criminal cases, but defends a lighter sentence for Stone.
February 14: It is reported that Barr ordered review of other cases involving Trump allies, like Michael Flynn, raising new questions about the attorney general less than a day after he sought to exert independence. The DC US Attorneys’ office drops an investigation Trump had pushed into Andrew McCabe, a former FBI official. Stone requests a new trial.
And, finally, speaking of things forgotten: Michael Avenatti, remember him? Stormy Daniels’ former lawyer has been found guilty of extorting Nike.
Now catch your breath. Next week will bring new Trump drama.
What job is Barr referring to?
The day after Barr went on TV to demand that his boss stop tweeting because it was interfering with the attorney general’s job, the New York Times and CNN reported that Barr ordered a review of other high-profile cases, including that of Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and then cooperated with Robert Mueller.
Begging the question: What exactly is the job Barr thinks the tweets are keeping him from doing?
On Wednesday, CNN reported that Barr had also been pressing for a sentence for Flynn that would spare him from prison.
McCabe won’t face charges
On the other hand, the US attorney in DC informed lawyers for Andrew McCabe, the former FBI official targeted by Trump (and now a CNN contributor), that it would not face charges related to a criminal investigation.
McCabe expressed his relief on CNN and was asked by Brianna Keilar about the timing of the news, right after the controversy over Trump interfering in the Stone sentencing.
“The timing this week coming on the tails of all the controversy over the Roger Stone sentencing is curious,” he said. “Again, it’s a decision that I and my attorneys feel confident they could have come to a long, long time ago. But nevertheless they did the right thing today by acknowledging that there was no place to take this and that no criminal charges should ever be brought on it.”
Read this: Chris Cillizza argues that Trump’s “deep state” conspiracy theory is taking a big hit with this news.
We don’t really have a campaign finance system. It’s a patchwork.
I went to CNN’s campaign finance expert, Fredreka Schouten, to ask about money in politics this year now that Michael Bloomberg is honing in on spending $400 million before he even appears on a primary ballot. On the other side, Trump and the Republican National Committee are going to be hosting a fundraiser near Mar-a-Lago with a per-couple entry fee of $580,600.
The full Q&A is here. And here’s a snapshot:
Me: How much can he spend? Is there anything in US law that addresses self-financing?
Fredreka: As much as he wants. Federal candidates don’t face any restrictions on how much of their own money they can spend to win — or lose — an election.
Back in 2002, Congress attempted to level the playing field between self-funded congressional candidates and their rivals this way: Once a self-funded candidate’s spending crossed a set threshold ($350,000 for House candidates, for instance), contribution limits for all the other rivals in the race would be relaxed.
But, in 2008, the US Supreme Court tossed that that provision as unconstitutional. And the court has said rich candidates have a First Amendment right to “unfettered speech.”
And so it goes.
What are we doing here?
The American system of government has been challenged to deal with a singular President and a divided country that will decide whether he should get another four years in the White House.
Stay tuned to this newsletter as we keep watch over the Trump administration, the 2020 presidential campaign and other issues of critical interest.