The Morning Jolt


How Partisanship Affects Accountability

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax speaks on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., November 7, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Recent headlines, and decisions about who gets investigated and prosecuted and who doesn’t, tell us a great deal about how partisanship affects accountability; a surprising figure denounces Obama and says his policies were comparable to Trump’s; and an event you won’t want to miss.

What Recent Headlines Teach Us about Accountability

Recent lessons from the news . . .

If you’re a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, and you make your third anti-Semitic comment in two months, that groups like AIPAC “push for allegiance to a foreign country”– after saying American lawmakers’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby” and “AIPAC,” and even earlier on defending a comment that Israel “hypnotizes the world” — you will get a lesser consequence than the first and second anti-Semitic comments. Congress will pass a generic resolution that declares “hatred is bad” and say nothing specific about you. Many of your colleagues will rush to your side and insist that you’re being unfairly targeted for scrutiny.

The speaker of the house will explain to reporters that you did not “understand the full weight of the words,” even if you’re 37 years old and you’re in your third year in elected office. One colleague will helpfully explain, “She comes from a different culture. She has things to learn.”

If you’re a Democratic governor, and a picture of two people wearing blackface and a Klan hood appears in your medical school yearbook, and you first admit to being one of the people in the picture, and the following day retract your admission, and people strongly suspect that you are one of the two people in that picture, everyone will call for your resignation. But if you refuse to resign, your party allies will not pursue impeachment; they will mostly shrug and move on. When asked about what should happen a month later, Democratic lawmakers will offer mealy-mouthed declarations of powerlessness, such as “We offered [resignation] as our belief, what should happen, but it’s their call to make.”

If you’re a Democratic lieutenant governor, and not one but two women from your past accuse you of sexual assault, your fellow party members will furrow their brow, declare that this is a very serious matter, and then oppose holding hearings into the allegations. They will call for a police investigation . . .  knowing that the odds of a prosecutor pressing charges over allegations of assaults 15 and 19 years ago is limited.

None of these developments reassure the public that when an officeholder breaks the law or engages in reprehensible behavior, that officeholder will be held accountable. There are lesser-noticed examples of unaccountability around the country, usually little-noticed beyond political junkies.

Former New York state attorney general like Eric Schneiderman will not face criminal charges — despite four women claiming he hit or choked them. Once charges were dropped Schneiderman issued a statement declaring that he “accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them.” He’s now teaching meditation. (No, I am not making this up.)

Out in Oregon, the former first lady, Cylvia Hayes, broke state ethics laws 22 times by using her access to her husband to collect more than $200,000 in “consulting fees.” They’re still working out the size of the fine that will be punishment; under her bankruptcy filing, it is likely to end up being a fraction of the negotiated sum. Former governor John Kitzhaber settled his own ethics case last year, agreeing to a $20,000 fine for 10 violations. Neither was ever charged with a crime.

Keith Ellison is the state attorney general of Minnesota; he won election last November despite allegations he abused his former longtime girlfriend Karen Monahan. One month before Election Day, Minnesota’s state Democratic party announced it had completed its own investigation and concluded that the allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

After the mistrial and inability of the jury to reach a consensus in Senator Robert Menendez’s case on bribery, fraud, and corruption charges, prosecutors didn’t pursue him a second time.

In California, a state-assembly investigation supported claims that former assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas sexually harassed two legislative staffers in 2016. He resigned, citing health reasons in December 2017, and sought other work at before registering as a lobbyist in the state government at the beginning of this year; his first client, the Los Angeles Unified School District, to cancel his four-week, $15,000 contract after complaints.

A lot of political figures are contemplating comebacks after unplanned interruptions in their careers in public office.

In Virginia, former state delegate Joe Morrissey is contemplating a campaign for state Senate. Morrissey pleaded guilty in 2014 to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and served three months in jail. Prosecutors accused him of having sex with Myrna Warren, then a 17-year-old receptionist at his law firm. He also faced accusations of exposing himself one of his law clients. He and Warren are now married and have three children.

Up in Connecticut, former Hartford mayor Eddie Perez says he’s being encouraged to run for mayor again. He was convicted in 2010 of five felony corruption charges, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first-degree larceny by extortion, and is suing the city for legal fees.

You’re going to hear a lot of talk today that the sentence of Paul Manafort is too light. He received nearly four years in prison in the financial-fraud case, far lighter than the 19- to 24-year prison term recommended under sentencing guidelines. Manafort still faces sentencing for two separate conspiracy counts from a different judge.

There’s no denying that when Donald Trump came into Washington, he brought along a slew of crooks, opportunists, reprobates, and assorted creeps of the political world: Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos. Of course, all of the above names have been prosecuted for crimes and either pled guilty or have been convicted. Roger Stone now faces charges of witness tampering, false statements, and obstruction of proceedings.

Unlike some on the Right, I don’t believe that the above men are wrongfully accused, unjustly targeted, or any kind of victim. They’ve had fair trials, and in many cases the best legal counsel they could possibly want. Karma caught up with them.

But karma has taken its time with a lot of other political figures, including the list of current and former elected officials above. Maybe Manafort’s sentencing is too light, but he’s at least seen the inside of a courtroom. A lot of lawmakers who ought to resign manage to wait out the storm, and a lot who deserve prosecution escape criminal consequences by resigning. Cohen, Manafort, and the rest weren’t elected to anything. On paper they have a friend in the highest of places, but we know how mercurial Trump’s loyalties can be.

Prosecutors have chased after Trump’s associates with the relentless and methodical determination of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. It’s just remarkable how lucky some Democratic officeholders are, that prosecutors look at allegations from multiple accusers describing the same type of crime . . .  and conclude there’s just not a winnable case.

You Won’t Believe Who’s Calling Obama’s ‘Hope and Change’ a ‘Mirage’

If Democrats won’t denounce Ilhan Omar about her comments about AIPAC, Jews, and Israel, could they at least pass a resolution denouncing her comments about President Obama?

As she saw it, the party ostensibly committed to progressive values had become complicit in perpetuating the status quo. Omar says that the “hope and change” offered by Barack Obama was a mirage. Recalling the “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border and the “droning of countries around the world” on Obama’s watch, she argues that the Democratic president operated within the same fundamentally broken framework as his Republican successor.

“We can’t be only upset with Trump . . . His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was,” Omar says. “And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”

Getting away with murder just because they’re polished? Look, Congresswoman, it’s not like President Obama ran around with a “kill list.” Wait, never mind.

Let’s also note the perfect irony that “Trump is no worse than the rest of them, he’s just less polished” is more or less what Trump defenders say.

No, Really, You Need to Get Tickets to the National Review Institute Ideas Summit

The National Review Institute has held several Ideas Summits, and they’ve always been good, and featured fascinating discussions, interviews, and remarks with prominent guests. But holy smokes, what a lineup this year: Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett, Senator Marco Rubio, Tammy Bruce, The Honorable James L. Buckley, Tucker Carlson, Adam Carolla, Federalist Society EVP Leonard Leo (one of the president’s closest advisors on judicial selections), AND the whole NR gang, including myself.

I realize a ticket costs a pretty penny, but I doubt anyone would argue the National Review Institute Ideas Summit doesn’t provide a lot of bang for the buck. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a chance to chat personally with any individual member of the NR crew or the invited guests, I can say a lot of us are around to chat with in between panels, speeches, interviews, and the like. This is a big deal, and you won’t want to miss it. Hope to see you there.

ADDENDA: NR subscribers can get an early look at my summary of the Democratic presidential primary’s opening act . . .  The Clown Car Show.

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