Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Lordy, we heard a tape

Gun Rights

We begin today with a CNN exclusive of the audio recording of Number 45 possessing and disseminating “information respecting the national defense.” 

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo adds his commentary on the Trump audio recording.

It’s about as it was described in the indictment. But hearing it does make it come alive in a different way. He’s so guilty as sin it really does beggar belief. He says it’s highly classified; that it would be cool if he could declassify it now but he can’t because he’s no longer President; and he’s showing it to just random people. The recording makes clear that he’s entirely aware of every link in the chain of criminality. You can listen to it here.

I’m certainly not willing to exonerate Trump of eventual plans to share or sell or profit, literally or figuratively for disclosing the contents of these documents to others. I just resist those theories because they’re too literal, too limited. The conversation caught on tape here captures a lot of why he held on to this stuff.

It meant he still had juice, had secrets he could hold over people. He could reward people or punish them. […]

Now, the factual premise here is silly. The US maintains war plans for wars with lots of countries. And not just the obvious ones. I remember hearing once that the US maintained plans on the shelves for invasions of Canada and the UK well into the 20th century. Whether that particular anecdote is accurate, the general point is: of course we have plans for a war with Iran. I bet we have several – one for a strike to destroy the nuclear research infrastructure, probably another to destroy the Iranian military and a big one for invading and occupying the country. If that’s what Trump is referring to that means nothing about what Milley wanted to do. But the point is that Trump thinks it does. And he thinks this is a big gotcha against Milley.

Trump’s childish bragging about being able to possess top secret and classified bragging was conveyed in a way that even reading a transcript of the conversation was not. And it was a joke to all the people in that room at that time.

“It’s so cool.”

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Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post ridicules the efforts of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Elsie Stefanik (R-NY) to “expunge” Number 45’s impeachments from the record.

Last week, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) introduced resolutions to “expunge” former president Donald Trump’s two impeachments, “as if such Articles of Impeachment had never passed the full House of Representatives.” Incredibly, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — whose job is to be the adult in the room — said Friday that he supports this initiative, which actual adults can see is ridiculous and obviously futile.

The aim appears to be to allow Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee in next year’s election, to claim that despite the events we all witnessed, he was never impeached at all. That lie can then become part of the fake historical record he sells to his supporters.

Sounds ridiculous on its face.

Even if such an “expungement” were theoretically possible, how do they propose to “expunge” the records of the 116th and 117th Congresses?

The House of Representatives of this 118th Congress  simply likes to waste The People’s time and money with performative BS.

Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald looks at the entry of not one, not two, but three— and possibly four— variations of “Florida Man” in the Republican 2024 presidential primaries.

In the crowded field of 2024 Republican presidential candidates, our forcibly adopted resident Trump, our cruel Jacksonville-born DeSantis, and Miami native son Suarez are standouts, if not for their policy points, then at least for the gumption of thinking themselves worthy.

And, as they travel around the country selling themselves through ads and appearances, the GOP primary is starting to feel like a referendum on the Sunshine State.

And now, there may be a fourth Floridian running — Sen. Rick Scott, who despite two Tea Party terms as governor is still seen as a carpetbagger.

We’re in trouble, America.

Olivia Beavers of POLITICO looks at efforts of the Freedom Caucus to possibly expel Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The right-flank group took up Greene’s status amid an internal push, first reported by POLITICO, to consider purging members who are inactive or at odds with the Freedom Caucus. Greene’s close alliance with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and her accompanying criticism of colleagues in the group, has put her on the opposite side of a bloc that made its name opposing GOP leadership.

While her formal status in the conservative group remains in limbo, the 8 a.m. Friday vote — which sources said ended with a consensus against her — points to, at least, continued strong anti-Greene sentiment.

A spokesperson for Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) declined to comment on the group’s vote as well as the official status of Greene’s membership. Perry said in an interview last week that he had denied requests to remove members from the group of roughly 35 House Republicans. A spokesperson for Greene did not respond to a request for comment.

Heather Digby Parton of Salon looks at the attempts of Republican presidential candidates to further stigmatize mental illness.

Speaking from the stage of the 2023 National Rifle Association (NRA) convention, the now broken-up White House hopefuls Donald Trump and Mike Pence made their point clear: Mass shootings are a mental health problem, not a gun problem. This display of stigmatization is most commonly seen following tragic events, like the unparalleled number of mass shootings we’ve endured. It is an unrelated tool of distraction. Experts have said that not only are most people with mental illness not violent, but they are also far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.[…]

So, what could this all mean for the landscape of mental health if a GOP candidate secures the White House next year? Well, there’s a blueprint of sorts already on tap in Florida. Trump-contending Governor Ron DeSantis’s wife, Casey DeSantis, recently announced a mental health campaign in Florida schools. Amidst the onslaught of other stigmatizing interventions Florida schools are enduring, First Lady DeSantis’s campaign is “rejecting the term mental health and replacing it with resiliency,” despite the widely accepted cultural abandonment of using the racially trope-heavy word “resilience.” […]

The targeting of mental health as a scapegoat at the highest levels of political power has a trickle-down effect on individuals. For someone with no pre-existing mental health conditions, public blaming can invoke the onset of a mental health condition, Dr. Torres-Mackie said. Furthermore, this public display not only furthers the stigma while acting as a barrier between individuals and treatment but it also simultaneously prevents further funding for structural mental health change.

Chris Geidner writes for his “LawDork” newsletter about the upcoming week of very important decisions at the scandal-plagued U.S. Supreme Court.

Although we don’t know that the Supreme Court is going to finish releasing decisions this week, that is the normal expectation since Friday is the end of June and the 10 cases (and 8 topics) remaining, while including many high-profile cases, could fairly reasonably all be released this week.

That would mean that we will know the outcome in the Harvard and UNC race-conscious admissions cases, the state and individual borrowers’ challenges to the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program, the “independent state legislature” scheme case, the case asking whether religious adherents whose business involves speech are exempted from state nondiscrimination laws, and the case establishing the accommodations that religious adherents can get under Title VII all by noon Friday. […]

Earlier in the year — certainly, at the beginning of the term last fall — it appeared that we were facing an out-of-control, reactionary court. And we’re still getting some of those decisions — I imagine we will this week as well.

But, there is something else happening. It’s not quite clear yet precisely what it is, and we really do need to see how the full term winds up before making any real assessments, but I think that we are seeing that the attention focused on the court matters.

Viola Gienger of JustSecurity tries to makes sense of the information coming out of Russia about the “coup” attempt of Wagner Group Chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin against the Russian government.

The shifting scenarios and statements, interspersed by long silences, and the notorious unreliability of any information emanating from Putin’s camp or from Prigozhin highlight the difficulty of discerning what’s really going on behind the scenes – or even knowing where those scenes are playing out. Prigozhin didn’t say where he was – is he indeed in Belarus? If so, under what circumstances? A generally reliable Russian media outlet today was reporting that camps were being built in Belarus, supposedly to hold detained Wagner forces. Or did Prigozhin escape the Kremlin’s clutches and go into hiding somewhere else, waiting to record a message until he had “proper communications” that could not be geolocated? (Prigozhin’s company had explained his absence yesterday by saying he would “answer questions when he will have access to proper communications,” possibly suggesting he may be concerned for his safety or perhaps in custody.) Likewise, the Shoigu video was undated and not independently confirmed.

While Prigozhin’s rebellion was indeed the most serious challenge yet to Putin’s more than two decades in power and  exposes “real cracks” – as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it yesterday – in Russia’s leadership structures, predictions that Putin has been significantly weakened should be taken with a measure of caution. It’s still early, and there are many potential theories about what has happened and what is to come. Beware also comparisons to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev – he was far weaker throughout his tenure than Putin ever was.

The Russian independent media source Meduza summarizes some of the items found in Prigozhin’s St Petersburg offices.

On June 24, when Wagner forces were still en route to Moscow, the news publication Fontanka wrote that the authorities raided founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s office in St. Petersburg (reportedly located at the Trezzini Hotel). Reporters say officials recovered the following items:

  • five kilograms (11 pounds) of gold,
  • cash in U.S. dollars,
  • six pistols,
  • five kilograms (11 pounds) of a white powder, and
  • several passports with photographs of Prigozhin but under different names.

Ukrainian journalist Natalyia Gumenyuk writes for Vanity Fair about the Ukrainian reaction to last weekend’s events in Russia.

Ukrainians, watching from the sidelines, tried to get a handle on the turn of events. Many of us in the media, as well as in the legal and the human rights communities, lacked truly trusted sources in Russia. Instead, we talked to émigré political analysts as well as reporters investigating the Russian military. And from what we gathered, it started to look like a page out of Shakespeare or Le Carré: The very person who was considered to be “the president’s man” had gotten out of control. And not from a position of strength. He seemed to realize, instead, that his own days might be numbered. So he went rogue.

Some contend that the Wagner Group—during the first phase of the war in eastern Ukraine—had been brought in to help Russian forces that had supposedly lost control of the center. Prigozhin’s men reportedly turned their firepower on local warlords, and Prigozhin, according to some experts who’ve followed this power play at close range, could have been reading the tea leaves—fearing not just for his eroding power in the region but also fearing for his life.

Whatever the motivations behind Prigozhin’s insurrection and his sudden redirection, Ukrainians on the street were not talking to military analysts. They were calling it as they saw it. And they were generally of two minds. First, many wished Prigozhin good luck. Their rationale was simple: “Let them eat each other.” Even so, it was morally impossible for most Ukrainians to root for the commander of the division that continued to call for more ammunition to kill more Ukrainians, and whose people were responsible for brutal murders of countless Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war. Likewise, the Ukrainian leadership found itself tweeting more about the weakness of Putin’s regime rather than cheering on Prigozhin.

Rachel Chason, John Hudson, and Greg Miller write for The Washington Post about the Wagner Group’s African operations post-Russian coup attempt.

In the Central African Republic and Mali, where Wagner has its biggest presence on the continent, residents said WhatsApp group chats and weekend conversations in the African nations were dominated by speculation about the fallout in their countries.

“Everyone is scared,” said a political analyst in Bamako, the capital of Mali, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about the tense situation. “Everyone knows that what happens in Russia will affect us.”

Officials and experts said it is too soon to know whether Wagner will retreat from Africa, or whether Prigozhin will be permitted to continue running the organization’s sprawling operations beyond Russia. For now, the group’s mercenaries were still visible at checkpoints and other security installations in Africa, according to witnesses and media reports.

Serge Djorie, the Central African Republic’s communications minister, did not respond to requests for an interview but sent a statement blaming Western media for causing “unnecessary friction.”

Mathieu von Rohr of Der Spiegel notes that for dictators, things are not always as they seem and Russian President Vladimir Putin is no exception to the rule.

It is a widespread misconception that dictatorships provide stability. It’s also how dictators like Putin often justify their claim to power: It’s me or chaos.

But it isn’t true. Dictators only ever seem to be stable until they suddenly cease to be. The chaos that then erupts seemingly by surprise is already part of the DNA of many dictatorships. When there are no stable institutions and no state, but there are competing factions in a system held together only by a dictator and his clique, then everything can spiral out of control when the dictator unexpectedly shows weakness. […]

Only one thing is certain after this weekend: Many things that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago now appear to be possible. And the world has learned a lot about Putin, about his system and about Russia.

First: Putin’s reaction to this violent uprising shows that he is quite willing to negotiate when he feels backed into a corner. That’s quite the opposite of the myth he has long propagated, according to which the hard-pressed Putin is the most dangerous Putin. Over the past 16 months, the notion that Putin is virtually invincible has often been voiced by opponents of military support for Ukraine. That came to an end over the weekend. And that should also provide food for thought for some of his international allies. The policy of consistent support for Ukraine by the West remains correct.

Former Deputy Head Assistant Director of Counterintelligence at the FBI Peter Strzok  reminds Belarusians that Yevgeniy Prigozhin is a wanted man in the United States.


Katherine Hearst of Middle East Eye writes about the Greek attempts to prosecute nine Egyptian men for their role in the Pylos shipwreck.

Nine Egyptian men were remanded in custody last Tuesday by a Greek court for their alleged role in the deadly Pylos shipwreck following hours of questioning.

They face charges ranging from participation in a criminal organisation to manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.

But the accusations are based on “fragile evidence” say activists.

The shipwreck was the second deadliest refugee and migrant wreck ever recorded, according to the UN, and has left an estimated 500 missing. […]

The men have pled not guilty, claiming that they paid money for their passage to Italy.

Reportedly, the men were detained immediately after their rescue at the port city of Kalamata, and were refused medical attention and contact with their relatives.

Finally today, Emir Nader of BBC News investigates the links of high-ranking Syrian Armed Forces officials and two relatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Middle East drug trafficking.

Captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine-like drug that has plagued the Middle East in recent years. Over the past year, the BBC has filmed with the Jordanian and Lebanese armies, observing their campaigns to stop Captagon being smuggled across the borders into their countries from Syria.

Now the drug is being found in Europe, Africa and Asia.

In March, Britain, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on a list of people – including two cousins of President Assad – suspected of involvement in the Captagon trade. But the BBC’s investigation, deep inside Syria’s narco-state, has found evidence indicating the involvement of other senior Syrian officials in addition to those already included in that list.

Syria’s government has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment. However, it has previously denied any involvement in the drugs trade.

Have the best possible day, everyone!

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