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Welcome to Save America, I'm John Fabara. I'm John Lovett. I'm Tommy Vietor.
On today's Pod, Lovett talks to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who filed a lawsuit last week to shut down the NRA, citing before that, we'll talk about Trump's fairly useless executive actions, his continued attempts to steal the election, and new reports of more foreign interference by Russia.
Cheery topics all around. I love it. How is the show this week?
Great, love it or leave it, Naomi at Paragon, one of my favorite guests, joined for the monologue and OK, stop. And then I interviewed Senator Ed Markey and Congressman Joe Kennedy about the primary taking place in Massachusetts, which is an unusual one. And I was glad to talk to them. And they both had pretty, you know, political answers about Tom Brady.
That's all say, was that an official sanctioned debate that you that you held?
And secondly, a forum because they did not appear on stage at the same time.
Thank you for asking excellence. Also, Ben Rhodes, his new podcast, Missing America, premieres tomorrow, Tuesday. Ben has been all over the world the last few years speaking to leaders and activists about America's absence in the world. Under Donald Trump, you're looking into problems like nationalism, authoritarianism and disinformation.
It's a show that sets the stage for what's at stake all over the world with this election. So subscribe and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Exciting stuff. I can't wait. Finally, if you get a chance today, go check out crooked dotcom. We got a brand new look, brand new redesigned website looks fantastic. You can find all the episodes of our podcast articles, our newsletters, all kinds of stuff, cricket, dotcom. Go check it out. Do yourself a favor.
Check it out. Check it out. All right. Let's get to the news.
Three months ago, Democrats in Congress passed a three trillion dollar economic relief plan.
In response, Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress did absolutely nothing. I think Mitch McConnell said, we're going to hit the pause button. I think he said at some point he didn't feel a sense of urgency. Then a few weeks ago, suddenly the Republicans proposed a plan that cut unemployment benefits, did nothing to protect people facing eviction, and did nothing to prevent state and local layoffs of teachers, health care workers, first responders and others. Democrats late last week were offering to meet them somewhere in the middle.
Republicans said no negotiations fell apart. So on Saturday, Trump himself announced for executive actions of his own on unemployment benefits, evictions, student loans and the payroll tax.
So tell me, after a few days of reporters looking at the actual text of these executive actions, seems like they don't really do much for people. You want to walk us through the highlights of these actions? Happy to. So there's a couple of parts, so let's take the unemployment insurance extension piece of this first. So Trump claims that his executive order will provide a four hundred dollar expanded unemployment insurance benefit. But if you look at the fine print, only three hundred dollars of that benefit comes from the federal government.
The says that one hundred dollars has to come from states. But as you guys know, states are already hemorrhaging money because of the pandemic. They're laying off people, they're furloughing people, they're cutting services. So there's just no way that states are going to be able to afford to pay that extra cash. It's also not at all clear where the three hundred dollars of federal aid will come from, he says, will come from reprogramming FEMA money, but it's a little squishy.
When asked about this, Trump said if they don't, they don't, that's going to be their problem. Meaning the states, if they don't pay these individuals so much like coronavirus testing, he's taken the responsibility and just pushing it to the states and he doesn't care if people get screwed in the process. The second is a payroll tax cut for Americans making less than one hundred thousand dollars per year. But that obviously does nothing for the thirty two million people who are unemployed.
If you're not paying payroll taxes, a payroll tax cut does not help you. That seems obvious to me, but for some reason we're debating it. It's also not likely to do much for workers who actually get it, because companies will probably just withhold the tax anyway until next year. So there's no real benefit for you. You claimed one executive order will stop evictions, but that language doesn't actually reinstate the federal eviction moratorium that had just expired or provide assistance to people who have fallen behind with their rent payment.
It basically tells HHS to consider whether it's necessary to halt evictions. So even like last week, I think like Monday of last week, very senior Trump administration officials were saying, we can't do what we need to do administratively. This can't be done by executive action. And then Saturday morning, we wake up and we are supposed to believe that, oh, no, they don't actually need Congress to act. We magically found a way to help everybody.
So there's just like a ton of spin, nothing. There's not enough of substance here to actually deal with the problem. Love it, you got anything to add to that, anything really get your goat about these executive actions? Well, one thing that was straight, so I saw that you, too. You know, my iPod, my iPod boys were tweeting about this as the president was doing it on Saturday. And I said, you know what?
This fucking asshole has lied to me on too many Saturdays. I'm going to take a look at this Sunday night when I'm prepping for the pod, but I'm just going to, like, let this one go. I'm going to live my life and is actually striking how inaccurate and how hard to follow the reporting on this actually is. Yeah. You know, Trump Trump proposes a payroll tax cut. Well, actually, even if you assume that employers will figure out a way through this Byzantine system to kind of put the money into employees paychecks, it's not a cut.
It's a deferral. They'll owe the taxes. They're really kind of pushing a problem to the future in a pretty extraordinary way, even if it is possible for companies to do this, which is Tommy points out, it's actually really difficult and it's not clear that they'll be able to implement it. So so it's not a cut. It's a deferral. It's not an eviction moratorium. It's like an eviction suggestion. It's an eviction insinuation. There's no moratorium.
There is no ban, though it was reported that way, even in articles like in the Times, they were trying to break down what was in this. You look at the UI benefit, John, you were pointing this out that that wait, it's not actually an extension. It's a cut. Right. Because if we actually extend the law at six hundred dollars, this is three hundred to four hundred dollars. But but in fact, because this is not based on the law, it seems unclear how or if or whether this money will ever be able to be distributed, certainly not in the immediate future when people are desperately in need of help because it's being sent out to states that are already not just strapped for money, as Tommy pointed out, but extremely extended logistically, practically in their ability to kind of get payments to people and figure out what people need.
And then you look at the student loan piece, that's like, yeah, that's the only one that offers like maybe some relief right now.
I think it's like it's super confusing because of how bad the actions are that, like, you people were just poking so many holes in them. Like, I think you just need to know, like if if you're one of the people who is getting unemployment benefits, you were getting your state unemployment benefits plus six hundred dollars a week. You're getting a cut no matter what. Even if states can pony up the dough, you're getting a cut in the benefits.
And that means that's over 20 million Americans right now who are already struggling, who are out of work, who are going to face a cut, even if states can pony up the dough at best because it's an executive action.
They had to, like, move money around from basically disaster response from hurricane funding. It's only going to last another five weeks at best anyway. So this is only an extension of five weeks because that's all the money they had. The poorest Americans aren't eligible for the extension and unemployment benefits, which is also bullshit.
And now you have, as you guys both pointed out, this Byzantine system of states trying to scramble to figure out what to do here, if you may be getting evicted, if you face the prospect of eviction, there is absolute there's no more moratorium like there was from the Kahrizak.
There's just a bunch of people at government agencies being told you might think about protecting people if you can. And then and the payroll tax cut is just so ridiculous. Like, yes. So maybe in the next couple of paychecks, not the next couple of paychecks, because the businesses have to figure out how to run this whole new system. Maybe they'll withhold your Social Security and Medicare taxes, but you have to pay it back at the end of the year.
Unless, by the way, Trump says unless he gets re-elected, then he's going to get rid of it for sure, he says, which he'd need Congress for. And that would basically destroy the Social Security trust fund. So it's a promise to cut Social Security.
But a lot of the reporting also says, but Trump pledged not to ever cut Social Security. Like, I can't do all of these things. Please stop. I mean, so love it. Like how much of this appears to be legal?
And I guess the broader question is, how much should we be focusing on the legality? Because I do think, as you saw us tweeting on Saturday, the initial conversation about this, I think was mostly about it's unconstitutional, it's not legal. He's an authoritarian, blah, blah, blah. You know, Chuck Schumer was on TV and he said, well, I'm going I'll leave this to the lawyers. And he got some shit for that. But like, what do you think about the legality question?
So I will say that I came to this being worried that Democrats afraid of simply saying Donald Trump is being too strong on important issues, would avoid the legality questions, because from a message point of view, it's better to focus on the fact that these are inadequate and won't actually help enough people. Totally understood as a sort of as you go to break these things down, the student loan memo is actually continuing. What he did before Congress passed the CARE Act doesn't go as far as what the CARE Act does, but it's seems like is actually just something that he's done before.
The payroll tax deferral, not a cut. You know, I see people like Ben Sasse being like this is constitutional slop. Payroll is, you know, it's appropriated by Congress, whatever. And it's like, oh, wow. Ben says you got your balls now that your primary is over. Terrific, but great. Great. But it's just a deferral. Right? And we give the president broad emergency powers. I think the UI benefit is like the most it's certainly had a philosophical level like like extraconstitutional, like the president just creating a basically a new unemployment program.
And the Republicans come in and point out DACA and we have that argument. Again, I think my general view is that when these legality questions come up, it is a sign of how many kind of congressional prerogatives have been surrendered to the executive, that it's actually always becomes this sort of morass of when your side does it, it's OK. When their side does it, it's bad and what have you. I think one of the goals of the Biden administration has to be to work with Congress to limit executive authority, something that no president ever wants to do.
But I actually do think it's legitimately important right now based on how feckless and silly a lot of these egos are and the fact that he's using emergency powers and taking money from disaster relief to go towards some of these actions. I would say focusing on the fact that they don't help enough people is the right thing to do. That's my long answer.
Tell me, what do you think about the politics of all this? I mean, obviously, the Trump folks think this is all good politics. Know, they get to show the president breaking through Washington gridlock to get something done for people. Trump basically dared Democrats to sue him over the legality of this because he thinks I'm trying to give people money. And if they sue me, that's not going to be very popular. Are they right on the politics?
They have a point. Or what do you think of the political wisdom of these these moves?
I mean, in the short term, it's probably good politics, right? I mean, the press reported on Trump's actions. It made them sound bigger than they were. The media narrative is now debating what Trump did or didn't do, per usual. It's all focused on him and sometimes he gets credit for trying. The problem longer term is that the pandemic is not even close to under control. I mean, like all the efforts to reopen, failed cases are skyrocketing, rocketing like one hundred and sixty four thousand dead.
The PPP program has run out. So companies are going to start laying off more workers. States need money from the federal government because they're bringing in less tax revenue. And so, like, I just think the the near term press hit is going to get caught by the longer term economic reality. And ultimately, I do think he owns that. And I think the Republican Party, the party in power, will own the majority of the fallout politically from a bad economy and from people who are really hurting.
So, you know, maybe they're just banking on on this OEO announcement as a way to get some good stories when a couple of days coverage as a bridge to a longer negotiation. But that is a it's a pretty big risk.
Yeah, I think this is a fucking disaster for them, like a few days coverage. I don't even know if they got a few good hours because like I said, by the time you get to Sunday and Monday, everyone's poking holes in all the executive actions.
But look like, you know, short termism is a problem in politics that, like, predates Trump. Right. Like people try to do things to get through the news cycle. It is debilitating for the Trump people like they can't even see past a couple hours past the statement. Right.
Like Donald Trump, in order to get re-elected, needs a boost to the economy. He needed this package more than anyone else in Washington, except for the people who are actually fucking struggling right now. American people need it most.
But in terms of the pure politics of it, he needs the economy to improve in order to win.
If there is no deal, forget about just these four areas that he had executive actions for unemployment, eviction, stuff like that. This means there's no more direct payments to people that was supposed to be in the package. That means the program expires, which has kept a lot of people on payroll. This means there's no state and local aide. Democrats were proposing a trillion dollars. Now there's zero no money for schools to help reopen. Think about how much money is going to come out of the economy because they failed to pass a deal.
And what is that going to do to like next month's jobs numbers, the job numbers after that, the Q3 GDP like this is going to be a fucking disaster him. He needs this deal. So badly and the craziest part about this is Democrats were willing to give him a good economy. He is running for reelection. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had fucking three trillion dollars on the table. All Donald Trump had to say was like he could have made a few know, few changes here and there, a few compromises.
He could have signed a deal that would have boosted the economy and helped his re-election.
And he said, no, it's amazing. It's you stop and you think about it and you have Democrats, the party out of power in terms of the White House, the Senate begging the president in power to let them help him boost the economy. Right. It's the exact opposite of what happened after the financial crisis. One other thing I just would add that, too, is it's the short termism like, yes, he doesn't just need a rhetorical win, but it's similar to how in his interviews about the coronavirus, he can't say we have more work to do.
He has to lie about how well he's performing. He goes in front of the the fucking golf community of Bedminster and says and says this bill will solve this problem completely.
He just he just he's like, you know what? There was this whole mess in Congress. Maybe people are going to blame Congress. But you know what? I own it now. I own everything that happens from here because this is now my plan.
Solvay completely. Look, I mean, it's that the the you know, the secretary of housing should consider steps. That's the on evictions that he says solves it completely. By the way, even if Congress extended the eviction moratorium, it doesn't actually extend eviction moratoriums to the vast majority of renters. Good point. Not renting from places affected by the congressional moratorium.
Just like here's the problem I see for Congress, though, right. Which is the Democratic message is we're trying to sound reasonable, basically like we have a three trillion dollar bill. We Democrats, Republicans have a one trillion dollar bill. Let's meet in the middle of two trillion. But to get to that point, Republicans will need to resolve the intra GOP fight. And I'm not totally sure that there's a path there because you have some of the moderate and even traditionally more conservative lawmakers who are like, we get it, we need to do something.
And then you have like assholes like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul who have this philosophical opposition to more spending. And then you have like Reagan era like white collar on the blue shirt supply side. Economists like Arthur Laffer, who are in Trump's ear arguing that all unemployment insurance benefits are bad and every policy should incentivize work. And like what I can't wrap my head around is how the discussion over the stimulus is so divorced from reality. One hundred sixty thousand people are dead from covid.
We probably should be incentivizing people to stay home and not work, but we're not really. Even the available data so far says that the more generous UI benefit isn't actually doing that. Trump is out there obsessed with the payroll tax cut, which by definition does nothing for people who are unemployed. So like Pelosi and Schumer in this weird place where like they're dealing with Meadow's and Manoukian and all these guys who won't budge, they passed a deal months ago.
McConnell refused to engage with them. And so, like, they're just getting both sides to death. And like, I believe strongly that we need to pass a real bill that gets people money, that helps people from getting kicked out of their houses, funds, the post office, election security, all of these things. But it just got in this Republican infighting. And I'm not like it's not clear to me how to fix that.
So I'm so glad you brought that up with a very good point, because I do think that that is the it has not been reported enough that that's maybe the central problem in fixing this, because and I think the split within the GOP this time is between Republican senators who are vulnerable and up in twenty twenty versus the ones who want to run for president maybe in twenty twenty four. In twenty, twenty eight. So you got the asshole who's in charge of the NRC, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and he's on Twitter and he's like, you know what, Republicans totally would have gone for a four month extension of six hundred dollars a month unemployment.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer blocked it and blah, blah, blah. Martha McSally wanted to propose an extension. And it's all bullshit because like, OK, then have Mitch McConnell put an extension through the end of the year for six hundred dollars a month on unemployment on the Senate floor tomorrow. And let's see how many Republicans vote for it. Go ahead.
Put it on the floor, because like McSally and Gardner and all these people who are might lose their seats in twenty twenty actually want this to happen. And then you have fuckers like Ted Cruz tweeting today. Ed Markey was tweeting about his plan to give people two thousand dollars a month in direct payments for the course of the pandemic. And Ted Cruz is like, what's next, free soy lattes? And you know, all this because, like, Ted Cruz doesn't actually want to spend money because he wants to seem like the hard headed guy who cares about the debt when he runs for fucking president again or whatever.
But it's absurd.
You know, for one second, Ted Cruz clearly hired a new social media guy. And the sole goal of that person like job is to wake up in the morning and be the. Most annoying lame troll you can possibly be and then log off like they're like tweeting about like Democrats don't like trucks and you're like a soy latte boy, like, is that effective?
Is this really what we do now, Ted?
Tommy, I'm worried about him. I think he's doing it himself.
Princeton, Harvard Law, Goldman Sachs wife. You're the you're the big pickup truck guy, Ted. Is that is that you are OK.
It's always like very frustrating because soymilk is like for fucking milk, sergo, you know, we have so like like we're running. Oh no. Oh milk. I mean these are the milk we're talking about. You know, these are coconut milk. Right. Like magnesium variety of non-dairy milks. Yeah. That Ted could consider it as material.
I think you can see this morning that Trump has begun to realize that he probably fucked up because he's now tweeting Schumer and Pelosi called me.
Now they want a deal because they did my executive actions and insurance policy like we never call them and Democrats, we never call them. And White House staffers are like, no, there was never any call anywhere, anyone.
But suddenly now Trump knows he wants a bigger deal because he knows he needs the fucking deal. I wonder what Schumer and Pelosi do from here. Like, do they just let him sit around or they just hold their leverage and say, come back when you're willing to do X, Y and Z?
I'm just imagining Trump, you know, wandering in his kimono on the top floor of the White House in full on colloquy with Nancy Pelosi, who is not there, you know, it is like the good news.
Look, I am very worried about the state of the country, what's happening to people, et cetera, like the good news for those of us who believe that getting Trump out of office is the only way we solve this long term, as I do think Biden is in a pretty interesting position here and that he's not part of the negotiations. You can just be a big picture guy, talk about what he do as president. And like you saw this in this long, medium post he did in July.
He's talking about money for testing and contact tracing and relief for states and governors. And just like painting a bigger picture of what it would be like to have a president that's actually responsible, that doesn't, you know, does have to get into the weeds about the legality here. And he can say, like, look at New Zealand, look at Europe. Look, these people are shopping without masks and hugging relatives. Like we could have a normal covid response if we just tried.
It doesn't have to be this chaotic. Yeah.
I mean, look, I think that what just happened in Congress with this relief plan and what Donald Trump just did with these executive actions has handed Democrats more than enough contempt for the convention next week. Because the one thing in all these polls that's been keeping Trump even somewhat within reach of Biden is people trust him on the economy, although that advantage is sort of slowly disappearing. But I would talk about like we are facing one of the greatest economic crises of our lifetime.
And Donald Trump's proposal was to cut unemployment benefits, gut Social Security and Medicare, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and let thousands and millions of layoffs of teachers, health care workers and other first responders in states happen on his watch in the middle of a pandemic. That's his economic plan. I mean, they just served it right up on the platter for Democrats next week. If they're if they're willing to go there, which I hope they do.
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So we talked last week about the different ways that Trump might try to steal the election. There's now more evidence he's forging ahead and he's getting plenty of help from the Republican Party. Politico reported over the weekend that Trump aides are looking into executive actions around mail and voting, including, quote, everything from directing the Postal Service not to deliver certain ballots to stop and local officials from counting them after Election Day. We also found out that after Trump donor turned Postmaster General Lewis Dejoy met with congressional leaders, he staged a shake up at the Postal Service that, according to The Washington Post quote, centralizes power around Dejoy and deemphasizes decades of institutional knowledge.
Meanwhile, Republican operatives in at least six states more like to SADD.
They were calling him DeLay, get it? That was much better, so much better and it's not good. Yeah, no, it's not good, but you managed to make it worse. Meanwhile, meanwhile, Republican operatives in at least 60 life just sucks.
Republican operatives in at least six states, including Wisconsin, have been accused of using fake signatures to get Kanye West on the ballot, including names like Mickey Mouse and Bernie Sanders, who now live in now live in Wisconsin. Who knew? So let's start with Trump's continued assault on mail in voting.
One of the consequences of not reaching a deal on another economic relief package is that there won't be money for the post office or election infrastructure.
Love it. What are the next steps on this for Democrats, for Democratic lawyers, for people like what do we do from here?
Yeah, I mean, I think one thing is continuing to fight for a relief package that not only includes funding for the post office, but actually puts guardrails on that funding to make sure that the money has to be used to, say, pay the overtime so that mail gets delivered on time, that there's no interference in the election, that it doesn't get held up, that they don't try to basically not spend any money that Congress appropriates if we can if we can get a bill through the Congress.
You know, Dan Pfeiffer of the Thursday pod had some really good thoughts about this in his new weekly newsletter because he needed another activity. And but he sort of walks through a lot of what we can be doing. And unfortunately, I think we are quite limited. But it does involve Congress and us as individuals putting pressure on Republicans and on and on the post office itself. One of the things that as of the post office is incredibly popular. It is a very, very popular institution and it is popular outside of politics because it is how people get their medicine.
It is how people get their Social Security checks. It is how people send each other gifts. It is our grandparents saying stay in contact with their grandchildren and interfering with this nonpartisan, non-political thing that matters to a lot of the people I think is a great way to spin up calls to congressional offices of Republicans and Democrats alike. There is nothing like not getting the mail to get a bunch of old people to call their members of Congress. So I think that this is a very stupid thing.
One other thing I'd also say is the one reason Republicans have targeted the post office for a long time is because it was a way to target some of the most powerful and important unions in the United States. And those unions have a lot of power here because they're inside of these institutions. And we should rely on what they're saying and make sure that we are giving the postal unions the support they need because those those mail carriers are the people ultimately that will actually do the work of making sure that mail in ballots are delivered and mail in ballots are received on time.
So, Tommy, you know, if we don't get another package out of Congress and the post office remains a bit of a mess as it looks right now, and mail in voting is sort of all over the place. You know, on one hand, we have our team of Democratic lawyers and Marc Elias and all of our friends sort of suing people. What can individuals do? Like if if you're voting, you're trying to get other people to vote to sort of navigate this system?
I mean, there's some basic things which include send your ballot back as early as you can if you're worried about voting by mail. A lot of places have drop off cans, basically where you can put your ballot.
But I also think there's a bit of this that's just an awareness factor, because so far, Trump's attacks on the post office and vote by mail have been largely rhetorical, which, don't get me wrong, are bad.
But this report with them, like telling the post office not to deliver a ballot or prevent it from being counted is a threat to our democracy. This is not a boring debate about funding the post office. This is a crisis for democracy. And there they're literally suing states like Nevada to keep them from sending ballots to voters. So, you know, one thing I remembered was a couple of weeks back, Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post had this great column about how the media can learn from mistakes we made in twenty sixteen and not repeat them the cycle.
Her first recommendation was to focus on voting rights and election integrity in coverage. And I do think the press needs to explain how serious this is and not let the conversation devolve into the usual broken back and forth about voter fraud that doesn't exist, that just ultimately spreads misinformation like it's not inspiring. If people wait in line for eight hours, it's outrageous. It's evidence of a broken system. And so thank God for Marc Elias and all these lawyers fighting to make sure that ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted.
I think we can do to help them just mail your ballot as soon as you possibly can. But we also just need to, I think, make a bigger case. And this is a long term project about election integrity and voter access and voter rights. And like Levitt said, Pelosi and Schumer need to fight like hell for that funding. Yeah, no, I think it's it's an excellent point to really sound the alarm. And Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer who's who's fighting a lot of these fights in court, he said there's basically like four things that you can do in addition to what Tommy said, which is vote early in person.
Right. Forty one states now have early voting. So you're likely to be in a state where you can vote early. And, of course, then you avoid the lines of Election Day, which could be dangerous in a pandemic. Use a ballot, Dropbox, drop off your ballot at an election officer polling station, almost all states. Now you can drop off your ballot at your local election office or at the polling location. So you fill it out at home, you bring it there, and then you don't have to worry about the mail.
And then there's also the ability to organize community ballot collection where groups can actually come and safely get sealed ballots from. Voters and then bring them bring them to the local polling location or the election office. So I do think that's something to think about as we get closer to an election where we may not be able to rely on the post office, which is fucking crazy.
It was the fourth one. What was the fourth one?
Or this vote early in person, use a ballot, Dropbox, drop off your ballot at an election office or polling location?
Oh, I thought those were cheap. Sorry, those were two different ones. Sorry, I went too fast. I went too fast. Organized community ballot connection.
OK, so Trump is also getting some help once again from his old friend Vladimir Putin. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a statement by Counter Intel chief William of Anina, who said that Russia wants to see President Trump re-elected and is, quote, using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden. He cites a pro Russian Ukrainian politician who's been publicizing leaked phone calls to undermine Biden, as well as social media and propaganda campaigns have also said that both China and Iran do not want to see President Trump re-elected, but that their efforts appear to be less widespread.
Tell me, what did you make of this statement, particularly the inclusion of China and Iran?
So this is total bullshit. Let me just let me just do the backdrop of the contest here about how Trump has politicized the intelligence community. So a while back, Trump installed this Twitter troll named Rick Grenell, who has zero intelligence experience. This jackass would have reported to me when I was at the White House. Right. I was not qualified to be the director of national intelligence. They said insult him. They had him clean house pushout, serious people and install loyalists in all of these hacks have pressured the intelligence community to change intelligence assessments, to please trump something that would have been should still be a massive scandal.
Right. There was a long New York Times magazine piece over the weekend. It detailed how the intelligence community was pressured to change an Niyi about election interference. And Niyi is the most vetted, authoritative consensus assessment of an issue. They forced these guys to change the Niuean election integrity from saying Russia favor Trump to this watered down version. That said, Russian leaders probably assess their chances to improve relations with the US will diminish under a different president, a very big, very material difference.
So we know that in 2016, the Russians ran a huge propaganda effort, that that effort is ongoing. We know that they hacked the email accounts of Democratic officials. We know they helped them leak them to WikiLeaks is a carve-out. We know that they probed election systems in 50 states. I think we all should be worried that it will be worse this year. Now, the Chinese, they have sophisticated hacking operations. They have tons of overt propaganda and disinformation campaigns against the US, against policies.
But there is no evidence. There's no reporting that they did anything is focused or as directed is what Russia did to help Trump trump their guy. I'm sure the Chinese now hate Trump because he's freaking out and escalating tensions with them all day. But it's nowhere near the same. Iran has cyber operations and hackers and teams, but again, we've seen no evidence that they've done anything close to what Russia did. So this statement to me was designed to muddy the waters.
We are now both sides in the foreign interference conversation. And we have an intelligence community that is not telling people the truth that we cannot trust to tell the truth, because they have been so thoroughly politicized by Trump and his team. Doesn't sound good, does it love it? I read this and I was just like, oh fuck, now what do we do?
It's horrifying. It's one thing to note, too, that in that when I saw that the DNI had put out that statement saying that there was this interference effort, I was immediately like, oh, wow, are they responding to pressure from Senate Democrats who are saying, release this information? It's so interesting. And of course, you're be like, well, I see why they added Iran and China. It was to make sure Trump didn't feel bad and to help themselves politically.
And then you read the Robert Draper piece this long. I think long is among the many qualities it has.
Let me say it's a really informative it's a very it's a very thorough look at politicization of intelligence. But the final note in the piece is that they put out the statement about interference after they got the questions from Robert Draper that laid out what Draper had collected. So they were clearly trying to get ahead of this time story. And then you have Senator Richard Blumenthal basically saying, what I have seen is chilling, chilling, worse. It is worse than 20, 16.
It is an incredibly sophisticated interference effort being run by Russia. It has absolutely no basis of comparison to what's what China and Iran may or may not be doing. And you're left with this sort of pit, this sick feeling of we are exactly where we were in the fall of twenty sixteen and we are running out of time to get this information into the political discussion.
So I was going to ask you about this, Tommy. So I see I see the Blumenthal op ed that freaked me out even more than the the assessment that I had read the day before. Natasha Bertrand of Politico asked Mark Warner if he would publicly disclose the intel on the Senate floor where senators are shielded from repercussions under the Constitution's speech or debate clause. And Warner said, I'm not going to take anything off the table. I never heard of that.
Is that possible that senators can just, like, declassify Intel on the floor like that?
Yeah. I mean, yes. So in nineteen seventy one, Mike Gravel, who you might remember from several primary debates, reacted very weird. He entered four thousand pages of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. That happened just before the Supreme Court lifted an injunction on publishing them. So it is a slightly different scenario. But yeah, I mean, when I saw Blumenthal tweeting some of these things, I thought to myself, look, obviously there's concerns about protecting sources and methods and making sure we're not, you know, getting people killed or helping us out.
But the point of having intelligence is not just to have intelligence, it's to inform policy. And if we think that the Russians are about to interfere in our election in a way that could disrupt the entire democracy, to disrupt the entire democratic process like elections or the core of that process, then I do think it's completely appropriate and in fact, maybe a moral obligation to tell people about this information, sound the alarm, let us know. Now, the challenge for anyone who decides to do this is not necessarily like the politics around releasing classified information.
It's do we live in a time when people will care? Well, the media, both sides this people pretend is not a big deal. Will it just be split in a partisan way? Again, I don't know. But like it sounds, I haven't read this intelligence, but it sounds like people are pretty freaked out. People in a position to know are pretty freaked out. And it feels like we should maybe be disclosing more information.
Yeah, because lest we forget, in twenty sixteen, when members of the Clinton campaign and Harry Reid and others started talking about Russian interference, the way the media treated them were like, oh, you're just saying that because you're worried you're going to lose, you're trying to make excuses about why they didn't take it seriously.
Now, that was before we knew that Russia really did interfere in our elections. And so maybe, maybe people have learned lessons from twenty sixteen. But who knows? Who knows? I do think it's a moral obligation at this point. I mean, also, when you have an administration, as you were just saying, Tommy, like shading intelligence estimates and assessments. Right. Like for in politicizing intelligence. And so, like, if we can't trust that the intel we're getting from the administration is true and hasn't been changed to help Donald Trump and benefit him politically, then other senators who are getting briefings like that, what choice do they have?
There is a look there is, I think, a legitimate concern that if senators or members of the House begin to use the speech and debate clause to march down to the Senate floor, the House floor, and just reveal intelligence, which they are completely constitutionally allowed to do, that it sets a dangerous precedent that basically information is only as protected and secret as one member of Congress decides. Basically, any member of Congress can break that. Well, that's a that's a risk.
But I do think at the very least, it seems to me that like Mark Warner and others who are seeing this information could consider going much further, not just saying this on the table, but legitimately threaten to use their constitutional power to go to the Senate floor and tell us what they know to elicit more information from the administration. I think it is very much worth issuing a threat at the very least on this.
Yeah, and look, in the likely Trump administration, response will be to threaten to cut off intelligence briefings for those members. But I think, like you're right, that that I think sets in motion an escalatory process that they can then say we had no choice but to disclose this information. And like Dick Blumenthal and these senators reading these intelligence assessments, they probably don't know the sources and methods. Right. Like they don't know the person in the bowels of the Kremlin who's who's giving us this information.
And they wouldn't. And of course, they wouldn't disclose that if they did. You do always have to worry that like any leak of classified information can be reverse engineered. You don't know what you don't know. You don't know what sources and methods you could be harming. But again, like, if these guys are this freaked out, tell us why.
Yeah. All right, on that cheery note, when we come back, we will have Lovett's conversation with New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who filed a lawsuit last week to shut down the NRF.
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Joining us in The Poncey, the attorney general for the great state of New York, Letitia James. Welcome back to the show. Thank you for having me. Great to be back.
So last week you filed the lawsuit to dissolve the NRA while you and your team were conducting the investigation.
Was there a moment or discovery that made you realize you were onto something big or was there anything that surprised you? So are the facts laid bare on the front pages of just about every newspaper throughout this country that the NRA had diverted millions and millions of dollars away from its charitable mission? There was a lot of infighting. It became public and it was our responsibility and our duty and our mission to investigate. And so we launched an investigation in twenty nineteen and we uncovered and confirmed certain facts.
And that is, is that they were looting the NRA and that they were doing it for financial gain for themselves, their family and their close friends. And because they wanted to favor. They wanted to get favor with individuals who had the responsibility of investigating complaints by complaints of whistleblowers, blowers. And so they attempted to curry favor with no bid contracts and side deals. And unfortunately, we confirmed all of that. We've got a responsibility and a duty to make sure that individuals comply with the law and particularly not for profits that are incorporated in the state of New York.
This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment and nothing to do with my personal opinion or views on gun violence, but all to do with compliance with the law and ensuring that individuals adhere to rules and regulations.
So I understand going after the individuals, people like Wayne LaPierre, who found it impossible to fight for the Second Amendment without like a very lavish lifestyle.
You know, you can't you can't protect gun rights without at least a beach house and a private jet. It's not possible. So. So you're going after him. I guess that's why also seek the dissolution of the organization itself.
So let me just say, you can't listen. What does going on a safari in Africa on multiple occasions has to do with the Second Amendment and tell me, what is the Second Amendment OK to do with going to the Bahamas at least eight times to add a car?
You want to be relaxed.
You want to make sure you're well rested for this at a cost of more than five hundred thousand dollars. And tell me, what does the Second Amendment have to do with this post employment contract for 17 million dollars or for private security? Every private security? OK, I'll give you that one. Well, what if what about the lucrative consulting contract for ex employees and board members worth millions of dollars? And what about the one point two million dollars in gifts to vendors that golf clubs and at hotels?
And what about that? The the Akhavan McQueen advertising firm, which you basically used as a pass through company for these non contractual out of pocket expenses worth millions and millions of dollars? And I think it's 70 million dollars. Can you can someone I know you've got a very, very smart audience. I remember seeing them in Brooklyn. Maybe one is right. Tell me what that has to do with the Second Amendment. But we are seeking the dissolution of the NRA.
Why? Because the right runs deep. It's pervasive. Yeah. It's throughout the entire organization. And it's important to note that this litigation is not against not just against these four individual defendants, but against the NRA as the corporation itself, because it's not just for individual corporations. We're talking about a 76 board member which oftentimes refuse to look into whistleblower complaints. In fact, they've evaded them. It has to do with the audit committee that, unfortunately, whistleblower complaints from outside auditors, it has to do with a compensation board which paid these individuals excessive amounts of compensation.
And the list of committees goes on and on and on. Everyone turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that these individuals and others are basically looting the NRA. And as a result of that, it left the NRA in in a very difficult and strange financial position. So this has really nothing to do with the Second Amendment, nothing to do with. Politics, nothing to do with my personal views and all the more to do with the not for profit law in the state of New York and which the NRA was incorporated back in the late eighteen hundreds.
So, you know, I've seen people, you know, there have been and I hear you pushing back against this idea that, you know, you're doing this because you're against the NRA or against the Second Amendment. But it seems to me you've basically, you know, said to all of the NRA's donors, hey, this organization that does something you seem to care about, that you want to advocate on behalf of the Second Amendment, has actually been wasting all your money.
They've actually done a terrible job of advocating for your cause because they've spent all the money on yourself. If this was a climate change organization or or a health care organization and we found out that they were bilking their donors, you'd expect people to say, hey, thanks for figuring this out to make sure that we have a more effective version of the organization.
Has anyone, any conservative, any gun rights advocate anywhere suggested to you that actually it was a good thing to root out corruption in this organization that they ostensibly view as being very important?
Well, yeah, it's been all over, you know, the political spectrum. There are some conservatives who have said thank you. There are others who have said it's political in nature. This is nothing more than a political slap. There are others who, again, bring up some rhetoric that I mentioned during the campaign about the NRA being a terrorist organization. But the reality is, is that we have a responsibility as the attorney general's office, which has supervisory powers and authority over not for profit incorporated in the state of New York to ensure that the mission is actually carried out and that donor dollars are dedicated towards that purpose.
And in this particular case, again, I mentioned what is so safaris and trips to the Bahamas and multiple side deals and no bid contracts, what do they have to do with their mission, with their charitable cause? And the issue was nothing. This was nothing more than self enrichment, nothing more than self dealing, nothing more than individuals violating their fiduciary duty to this organization. And so, in addition to dissolving the NRA in its entirety, we are requiring that these individuals pay full restitution.
And, you know, if, in fact, this had anything to do with the Second Amendment. The bottom line is, is that the law requires that this that the restitution be used for their charitable mission. And so I am required to take the restitution. And if, in fact, the NRA is dissolved, I am I am required to distribute that both funds to organizations that are consistent. With their permission. We also seek to remove them from the leadership and to never, ever allow these individuals to serve on the board of the charity in New York State.
Again, it's basically about accounting and about accountability. I imagine Wayne LaPierre saying something like, you can get this money from my cold, very soft, very well manicured hands. One other.
So just beautiful hands. Absolutely incredible. Just well well taken care of hands. So how does this this effort against the NRA compared to some of the other sensitive cases you've taken on, like going after the president's tax returns?
So I can't talk about any pending case that we have already pending investigation. But if people want to know the what's the precedent for dissolving a not for profit, please remind them that it was this office that dissolved the Trump Foundation as well. So we continue to, again, make sure that corporations and individuals and directors and officers and trustees of not for profit comply with the law, just as simple as that. And we filed this case for no other reason other than that.
And in terms of the calendar, as far as the calendar is concerned, we concluded the investigation. The issue is, should I have filed it now or I would I or should I have filed it later? I would have been accused of politics regardless. But that's OK. That's why I put my big pants on every day.
One last question. And I know obviously you can't speak to any pending matters that you're dealing with. But, you know, we're three and a half years into this presidency that has challenged the basic rule of law in ways we've really never seen before. And it's put a lot of onus onto prosecutors at the local level, prosecutors at the state level. How do you feel these institutions are faring against in general, against the onslaught from a Trump administration and a Trump Department of Justice that doesn't believe the president is accountable to the law?
Listen, we follow the facts and apply the rules and come to certain conclusions each and every day. And as you know, Democratic attorney generals across this nation have been defenders of our constitutional freedoms, of immigrants, of marginalized and vulnerable populations. We've been defending the census against attacks by this administration. We're in court right now as they seek to not include information from immigrants and try to change the date, to shorten the process, which has which has had a chilling effect on the response rate of the census.
We have stood up against this administration on public charge, on trusted traveler, the go on the environment over and over again, on the LGBTQ community, on food stamps for low income individuals. We continue to litigate against this administration and we've been winning because we recognize the rule of law. We recognize the Constitution, and we recognize that at this point in time, particularly during this point in time, what we need in this country now more than ever is someone in the spirit, in the image of FDR to provide, who understands and recognizes the importance of having a safety net and who recognizes that dividing Americans is not ignored and does not make a great dividing.
Americans just makes us, unfortunately, a country which is just at odds with itself. And that's just not who America is. And that's why I urge all of your listeners, all of your listeners, no matter what they throw at us, no matter what they throw at you, we've got to organize. We've got a vote. We've got to fill out the census and we've got to stand up for what's right, even against all odds and even against powerful, powerful corporations and individuals who think that they're above the law.
Attorney General James, thank you so much for your time. You were one of our favorite guests. The audience went crazy. You were such such a great we had such a great time when you joined us at our Brooklyn show. And so hopefully at some point sooner rather than later, we can do that again in front of a live crowd in New York.
Yeah, it will be sooner. And people keep your heads up when we come. When we get on the other side of this mountain, we've got to come together once again and we're going to be stronger and more united than ever before. I thank you so much. I had a great time at that event. It was the highlight of my career and I truly kubuabola. All that you're doing in this country while you as well, Attorney General Tish James, thank you so much.
Thank you. Anaesthetist James, for joining us today and we'll talk to you guys later. And I just want to say that I have second thoughts about my Ben Sasse joke about Bolz, which felt very nasty for me. And I just want you to know that, like, if I'm with you on, like, you know, open to alternatives in the future. Thanks, John. Welcome.
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