The Morning Jolt


Ten News Stories that Dominated Headlines — and then Disappeared

Michael Cohen exits the United States Courthouse after his sentencing in New York City, December 12, 2018 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: ten recent news stories that dominated the headlines and then suddenly disappeared, becoming modern unsolved mysteries worthy of an ominous Robert Stack narration; the latest in the suddenly twisted, scandalous world of Virginia state politics; Beto O’Rourke prepares to sit on a famous couch; and an invitation you can’t afford to miss.

Modern Unsolved Mysteries

Ten questions on my mind:

One: Whatever happened to that BuzzFeed story claiming that President Trump “directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow”? Did those “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter” ever give reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier any more information? Did they ever show them the documents? Did BuzzFeed ever give a good explanation as to why the office of special counsel Robert Mueller made a public statement that the story was “not accurate”?

Two: Whatever happened to that McClatchy wire-service story that justice department special counsel had evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign? Since Cohen’s a more cooperative witness now, wouldn’t that be an easy thing to corroborate?

Three: How’s the Chicago Police Department investigation into the alleged attack on Jessie Smollett coming? According to the police report, “the friend who called police told the authorities that Smollett ‘did not want to report offense however he believed it to be in the best interest to.’” Why would Smollett be hesitant about reporting two men who recognized him from his television show Empire, who put a rope around his neck, beat him with their hands and threw a liquid on him, and yelled homophobic and racist slurs and “MAGA country”? And all of this on one of the coldest nights in Chicago in decades, and somehow occurred within 60 seconds or so? And somehow Smollett managed to retain his cell phone and Subway sandwich while fighting off his attackers?

Four: Did Joy Reid ever catch that hacker who she claimed had hacked into the archives of her defunct blog and inserted homophobic statements?

Five: Did Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick — who described weekly parties of drugging and assaulting women going on for three years in the Washington D.C. area involving dozens of individuals — ever name anyone else at those parties?

Six: Did Al Sharpton ever pay back the $4.5 million in back taxes he and his companies owed? Is the Internal Revenue Service comfortable with the nonprofit National Action Network paying Sharpton for $531,000 for his “life story rights for a 10-year period”? Is the IRS okay with a nonprofit spending such a sum to purchase the life story of its own president?

Seven: Did anyone ever ID the guy who allegedly threatened Stormy Daniels? I know everyone joked that the sketch looked like Tom Brady, but did the dramatic unveiling on national television back in April ever generate any credible leads?

Eight: What did Roy Moore do with the money donated to his post-election “Election Integrity Fund” that was supposed to pay for a recount? During the Senate campaign, Moore threatened to sue the Washington Post over their reporting about his young girlfriends in the 1980s, and despite filing a countersuit against accuser Leigh Corfman last year, never sued the paper. Why?

Nine: The Washington Post learned, after Jamal Khashoggi’s death:

Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization, which promotes Arabic-language education in the United States.

Editors at The Post’s opinion section, which is separate from the newsroom, said they were unaware of these arrangements, or his effort to secure Saudi funding for a think tank.

While these actions by no means justify Khashoggi’s brutal murder, they do complicate the established narrative of a noble reformer using his pen to fight brutality within the Saudi state. In that light, out of all the slain reporters the Post could have spotlighted . . . why was Jamal Khashoggi included in the newspaper’s Super Bowl ad?

Ten: After producing one of the most highly discussed, praised, and hated commercials in recent years, Procter & Gamble said Gillette sales remained the same after the airing of the ad. The company declared the ad a success. Is the goal of advertising campaigns to keep sales at the same level?

Ralph Northam Might Outlast This Whole Thing

While I think Virginia governor Ralph Northam ought to resign, he’s not likely to resign.

For the sake of argument, assume Northam is telling the truth: that he’s neither person in the picture, that he’s never seen the picture before, that it was erroneously or mischievously put on his yearbook page, that he doesn’t know how he got that nickname, and the most racially insensitive thing he has ever done is wear shoe polish on his face to look like Michael Jackson in a dance contest 35 years ago. If all of that’s true, then he shouldn’t resign, because he’s an innocent man who’s being unfairly depicted as a racist.

If Northam is lying, then he doesn’t have the kind of character that would spur him to resign out of a sense of shame, or out of a concern that he’s damaging his agenda or his party.

None of Northam’s actions easily fit under the definition of grounds for impeachment in the Virginia state constitution. They’re not criminal. They were committed long before he entered politics, much less the governor’s mansion. He’s not neglecting his duties. (He may be incompetent, yes, but he’s not neglecting his job.) The statues defining “malfeasance” generally involve trading favors for gifts or other abuses of power. Even if state legislators get the votes to impeach him, Northam probably would argue before the state courts that his impeachment is invalid because state legislators could not prove he had committed any act that counts as grounds under the state’s constitution — and he might win!

Finally, Virginia Republicans are in an odd spot, with narrow majorities in the state senate and state legislature. Northam is a walking catastrophe for Virginia Democrats as long as he’s in office. Beyond that, if they lead the charge to remove Northam from office, Northam will no doubt claim the effort is “partisan nonsense,” so Virginia Democrats will have to lead the effort to remove a governor of their own party. And it’s fair to wonder if some Democrats who are comfortable calling on Northam to resign might be hesitant about eating up a big chunk of the year with impeachment proceedings, heading into November elections.

If Northam quits, he’s hated and notorious for the rest of his life. If Northam stays, he’s still the guy who has to sign legislation, make appointments, and has all of the other powers of the governorship. People will need favors from him. He’s still got a veto and a line-item veto. He can still commute sentences and issue pardons. Northam may calculate that three years from now, few will remember the accusations from February 2019, and some portion of Virginians will choose to believe his denials.

Meanwhile, the fate of the man who would replace Northam, Justin Fairfax, just got a lot more complicated:

A California woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assaulting her 15 years ago, has hired the same law firm that represented Christine Blasey Ford in her allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Fairfax claims that there was a consensual encounter; the Washington Post investigated and concluded it could not corroborate either person’s version of events. (You may recall that Ford could not recall the specific date or place and named witnesses that could not corroborate her story.)

If you’re a Democrat who believed Ford . . . what is different about these circumstances?

Hey, Beto, Do You Want In or Not?

If you’re Beto O’Rourke, an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show would be a good time and place to announce a presidential campaign. And if he doesn’t do it today . . . does he really want to run?

ADDENDUM: Please join National Review Institute at the 2019 Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 28 and 29. This year’s conference, “The Case for the American Experiment,” will bring together the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers and policy makers for discussions and presentations on American exceptionalism, and the country’s resilience and economic recovery. Space is limited, so please register now!

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