After an amazingly encouraging week or two, we head into the July 4th weekend with a whole bunch of stuff we've been trying to clear off our desk. Plus: Lots of breaking news and an encouraging ending for the weekend...
A late Friday finding from the 3-judge panel presiding over the Coleman/Franken U.S. Senate election contest in Minnesota has limited the number of previously rejected absentee ballots that may be reviewed for possible counting.
The 17-page order [PDF], issued late today, will likely come as a blow to former Senator Norm Coleman's (R) chances of overtaking presumptive Senator-elect Al Franken's (D) current lead of some 250 votes out of approximately 2.9 million ballots cast last November...
While Norm Coleman may believe that "God wants [him] to serve," the voters of MN, and a ruling yesterday from the 3-judge panel presiding over his U.S. Senate election contest, still seem to indicate otherwise.
Yes, at it turns out, something actually happened during Coleman's ongoing trial yesterday, and it resulted in still more votes for Al Franken.
To quote myself from coverage earlier this week, in case you hadn't read it all the way to the end: "Had Democrats ever fought as hard for every single vote as Republicans always do in any election that even approximates being close, President Gore or President Kerry would likely have ensured a very different judicial balance on [the U.S. Supreme Court] by now."
Thanks to the tremendous work by TheUptake.org, I've been hypnotized for hours at a time this week by live video coverage from the Coleman/Franken U.S. Senate election contest in MN, via their live feed from the courtroom, attorney pressers and "post game" analysis each day. Their coverage, as citizen journalists, has been exceptional each day, and MN, as well as the nation, owes them a big thanks. The work of the TheUptake.org is the very prototype of "what's to come" in news coverage as we move forward into the brave new century.
Watching their coverage, and the various findings from the 3-judge panel in St. Paul this week, has both made my brain hurt, and made clear again what I've quoted myself noting above: Republicans will say anything, do anything, make any legal arguments --- no matter how much in wild contradiction with their very own previous statements and positions --- that they need, in order to fight for every vote they think they earned (and even many they know they didn't. In the bargain, nobody has called them cry-baby, tin-foil hat wearing sore losers or conspiracy theorists, and their strategy has already resulted in political gains (Al Franken, the apparent winner of the election by 225 votes, has not been able to offer his Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate while the trial continues), and could, if miracles and/or SCOTUS happens, result in an overturned election. Though that much remains very much a long shot.
While many of the GOP tactics here have been reprehensible, their strategy, of fighting for every single vote, is to be commended. The Democrats should --- but probably won't --- learn from it.
With all of that in mind, and in hopes again of not going too far into weeds, which is tough not to do (see our recent previous coverage, here, here and here, for example), what follows is my best stab at a very quick summary of the most notable events and rulings, etc. out of Minnesota this week.
Also, my audio interview with TheUptake's Senior Political Correspondent, Noah Kunin, from Minneapolis, as taped during my weekly Friday appearance on last night's Peter B. Collins Show, is also posted below...
Presuming President Obama's nomination of NH's Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary will be confirmed by his fellow Senators, and presuming the Democratic Governor of NH keeps his backroom "deal" and appoints a Republican to fill Gregg's vacated seat, then Democrats in the Senate ought to take advantage of some arcane filibuster math, and hold up the seating of that replacement until MN's Senate seat is properly filled.
As things stand now, while former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman is taking his sweet time in throwing everything he can think of against the wall to see what might stick, in hopes of winning his MN election contest against presumptive Senator-elect Al Franken, the Dems need two cross-over Republican votes, for a total of 60, to stymie any attempted GOP filibuster. (That math presumes that independent Senators Sanders and Lieberman both vote with the 56 currently-seated Dems, as they do on most matters.)
However, the Senate rule requiring a supermajority (three-fifths of the Senate) to shut down attempted fillibusters with a cloture vote, is based on the number of "Senators duly chosen and sworn" --- in other words, currently seated Senators.
With two seats vacant then, from MN and NH, after Gregg's departure, that would put the number of "duly chosen and sworn" Senators needed to stop a filibuster at just 59 (or, 58.8, to be precise, but since we're not allowed to count Lieberman as .8 of a human, the number needed for cloture would be 59)...
Remember back in 2000 when the Republicanists belittled elderly (and minority) voters, claiming that 'if they failed to fill out their ballots correctly, and failed to follow the simple voting rules, then they're idiots and their votes shouldn't be counted'? They made the case over and over again, cynically, of course, because it would mean that, even though more voters had intended to vote for Al Gore than George W. Bush (and actually did [PDF], had they bothered to count them all) Bush should still be allowed to "win" the Presidency.
Well, as we've had to say so many times during our previouscoverage of the GOP flip-floppery that is the election contest of former Senator Norm Coleman against Al Franken in MN: that was then and this is now.
At right, take a look at the short, approximately 1-minute video of Coleman (and FL 2000 Bush v. Gore) attorney Ben Ginsberg, trying to keep a straight face in a presser after his team argued today that yet another cherry-picked voter/witness whose absentee ballot was legitimately rejected --- in this case because she failed to sign the ballot --- should have her vote counted anyway.
Like we said, that was then and this now. So never mind that whole "voter fraud" argument. Not useful today for the GOP opportunists. And now, while I'll try to stay out of the deep weeds tonight on today's proceedings at the Coleman/Franken circus (you're welcome), Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com argues convincingly --- based on fairly reliable reads of usually-predictable WSJ and other Wingnut Tea Leaves --- that Team Coleman may ultimately be angling for a do-over. That is, a re-vote for the entire election.
He may be right. Though there may be another plan, even though admittedly, the Coleman campaign is largely making all of this up as they go along, and any or all of the following guesswork may end up being their "strategy"...
This afternoon, Day 5 of the U.S. Senate election contest between former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and apparent winner of the '08 election Al Franken (D), Coleman offered another reason, just in case you needed one, to oppose his return to the Senate:
In a press conference outside the courtroom held just a short while ago, Norm Coleman announced that if he gets back into the Senate, he'll work on ways to make it easier for young people to vote online.
While we're in favor of "young people," and as many other legal voters who wish to vote, actually getting to cast their votes and have them accurately counted, if you like our currently unreliable electronic vote counting systems, which employ untested, unsecured, hackable garbage, then you'll love seeing that system opened up to the Internet!
All that said, however, where Coleman's case began on Monday as little more than a comedy of one error after another, as we explained in some detail earlier this week, over Days 4 (yesterday) and 5 (today), his legal team seems to have found a bit of footing, even if they've had to counter most of their own legal arguments that they'd made previously to keep ballots from being counted during the post-election hand-counting of ballots.
At the end of that process, Franken was found, by the state canvassing board, to have defeated Coleman by 225 votes, out of 2.9 million cast, even though Coleman was slightly ahead in the vote count during most of that time, and thus, argued adamantly against including as many previously rejected absentee ballots as he could.
But that was then, when he thought he was winning, and this is now, when he seems to be losing...
While former radio talk show host and author Al Franken is consistently described in corporate media reports as "comedian Al Franken," it seems it's the legal team of former Senator Norm Coleman who are providing the laughs in the first days of the U.S. Senate election contest up in Minnesota.
When even the unapologetic, rightwing, "Franken is stealing the election!" nutcases and conspiracy theorists at Powerline describe Coleman's legal case as being of "Three Stooges quality," you know these guys must really be falling apart.
Such seems the case again on yesterday's Day 2 of the trial, following the disastrous Day 1 when the 3-judge panel tossed out doctored evidence, as submitted by Coleman's team. Today's Day 3 doesn't seem to be going much better for them, either.
Yesterday, two of the six voter/witnesses called by Coleman, to testify how they were disenfranchised when their absentee ballots were rejected, actually admitted that their ballots were properly tossed because they were, in some way, incorrectly --- or even fraudulently --- cast...
In what TPM's Eric Kleefeld describes as "a truly brutal moment, one that could undermine the credibility of Norm Coleman's whole case," the Republican fomer Senator's political director was called to testify about doctored evidence, as revealed by Al Franken's attorneys last week, which they'd submitted in their U.S. Senate election contest against the apparent-winner in Minnesota.
By the end of the day today, the first official day of the trial, the 3-judge panel threw out the tainted evidence --- photocopies of rejected absentee ballots where the Coleman camp had either removed written comments from election officials as to why they were rejected, or left in text added by the campaign itself --- and allowed Coleman's team to subpoena and then re-submit the actual ballot envelopes.
Pretty nice of them, considering they could have fined Coleman and/or struck the claim entirely, as Kleefeld notes in his coverage this afternoon.
As long promised, The BRAD BLOG has covered your electoral system 2008, fiercely and independently, like no other media outlet in the nation. Please support our work with a donation to help us keep going. If you like, we'll send you some great, award-winning election integrity documentary films in return! Details on that right here...
At a pre-trial hearing in the Minnesota election lawsuit just now, Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton made a striking accusation: That the Coleman campaign has been doctoring evidence.
As an example, Hamilton showed two photocopies of a rejected absentee ballot envelope, one of which he said was the unaltered original, and the other taken from Coleman's legal filings in his attempts to get more of the rejected ballots opened. The Coleman copy was missing the section in which a local election official explained why it was rejected.
We are without words. Coleman's attorney "speculated that there may have been a photocopying problem." Sparse details in the rest of the TPM piece on this, but we'll see if we can learn anything further.
TPM's Eric Kleefeld also reports, in related articles, that former Sen. Norm Coleman's attorney was "openly heckled" by one of the judges on the three-judge panel --- this one, a Republican appointee.
And, in other news from Minnesota's U.S. Senate race election contest, apparent-winner Al Franken's bid to have the entire case dismissed was denied yesterday, while Coleman's hopes of receiving permission from the three-judge panel to inspect all ballots and voter rolls (in their search for votes, and hopes of delaying the formal beginning of the trial next Monday) was similarly denied.
Also, Coleman may be getting used to the fact that it looks like he's not going back to D.C.. He's accepted a "temporary" job as "a strategic adviser to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC)."
By the way, Franken seems constantly referred to as "comedian Al Franken" in mainstream news reports. Setting aside that he was most-frequently a radio talk show host for years, in addition to the author of several books, we can't recall any other candidate for office so consistently being referred to by their former occupation. Not that there's a bias in the corporate media in this matter or anything, just ask strategic adviser Norm Coleman.
UPDATE 1/26/09: The court tosses Coleman's "doctored evidence" on the first official day of the trial. Details now here...
Can still-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid do anything right? It wasn't enough that he blew two years of his mandate, since the Democrats took over Congress in 2006, with his usual pathetic dithering. It's not enough that following the 2008 election he rallied his fellow Democrats in the Senate to announce they'd not allow the seating of anybody chosen by beleaguered IL Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat of Barack Obama, only to fold pathetically (and correctly) to allow the seating of Gov. Blagojevich's choice of Roland Burris to fill the seat of Barack Obama.
Now, in his second prominent act as Majority Leader since the election, as AP reports tonight, he's considering going ahead with the seating of MN's Al Franken, despite the fact that Franken's opponent, former Sen. Norm Coleman, is allowed, by state law, to challenge the results of the election --- which found that he lost by 225 votes --- in a court of law before the election is certified by the state's SoS and Governor.
Can Harry Reid do nothing right? According to AP tonight...
If he's confirmed, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings today, he'll review the Bush U.S. Attorney's decision to not prosecute former DoJ Civil Rights attorney Bradley Schlozman for his grotesque bastardization and politicization of the department as we detailed earlier this week. Schlozman, the DoJ's Inspector General found, broke federal law and custom vis a vis his hiring practices of only fellow whack-a-doodle wingnuts, and further went on to lie to Congress about during hearings (which is also a federal crime).
Said Holder during questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein...
As usual, BRAD BLOG readers were right in overwhelmingly determining, in our poll just after the New Year, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would fold on his previous rhetoric promising to disallow the seating of anybody appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate. Roland Burris was sworn in as the newest U.S. Senator just minutes ago, as Reid and his fellow Dems stood in the background applauding.
Of course, as it turned out, it wasn't a difficult poll question to answer, given both the laws concerning such appointments, and the historical record of Reid's inability to either stick to his guns in any fight (ever) or, perhaps even more disturbingly, his failure to have even the slightest clue of when and with whom such battles should be picked.
Presuming Obama makes smart decisions at the White House (and that's certainly no safe assumption), there will only be so much he'll be able to accomplish --- ultimately, particularly after whatever honeymoon he's allowed is gone --- as long as Reid remains Majority Leader in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively, in the U.S. House.
They are all three dinosaur fossils of a failed era, have a record of miserable incompetence and need to be replaced. The only question is will it be before or after a thumping in the midterm 2010 elections.
I've had this picture in my mind lately, an editorial cartoon-like drawing, of a dam about to break and someone (Obama?) leaning hard up against it in futile hopes of keeping it from bursting forth. The dam and its contents, in my mind's eye, are labeled "Bush Administration Crimes and Failures." I've been pondering, over the last several days, how we're soon likely to learn that everything we think we already know about the historically-unparalleled failures, crimes and cover-ups of the Bush administration, will likely prove to be barely the tip of the iceberg as the Bushies lose their power, and "the files" are finally opened for all to see.
It's likely to take years, after President Obama is sworn in next week, to unearth the entire breadth of the degradation, filth, corruption and dismantling of federal law and U.S. Constitution under the current administration, and to piece together all of the unshredded and likely-shredded evidence both, and to take in the information likely to pour forth from officials and former officials who finally find the courage to tell the world just how bad it all really was and is (even if many of them would now be doing so only to salvage their own hide.)
One hint of what will be found beyond the tip of that iceberg, or inside that near-to-bursting dam (take your metaphorical pick) comes in today's remarkable report [PDF] from the DoJ Inspector General on the illegal politicization of the hiring practices at the DoJ's Civil Rights Division and "other improper personnel actions" in the division.
It's remarkable on several fronts. Not only because it describes the politicization of the department under the Bushies, their strictly illegal hiring practices; their determined dismantling of a core of career attorneys devoted to years of legal-processes in the fight for civil rights; as well as perjury and out-and-out lying to Congress, but also because the report itself --- in one last classic stroke of corrupt Bush Administration gaming of the system --- was completed last July, prior to the election, but held for release until today, just 7 days before the criminals (or at least those who won't be still-embedded like cancer cells within the federal buearocracy for years to come) take their leave.
And, as if all of that isn't bad enough, with the out-and-out finding of criminal wrongdoing in the report (such as illegal hiring practices and lying about them to Congress), the Bush Administration's own DoJ has decided that no prosecutions should be brought against the Bush Administration's own DoJ for the Bush Administration's own DoJ's now-well-documented actions in breaking federal law.
The bastardization of the DoJ Civil Rights division is a topic which we've covered closely over the years here at The BRAD BLOG, and even played a part in helping to expose, for example, when the head of the Voting Section in that division, John Tanner, was forced to resign from his post, not long after we'd video-taped and published controversial (and inaccurate) comments he made at a 2007 conference in Los Angeles declaring that disenfranchising Photo ID restrictions at the polling place were more of a concern for the elderly than for African-Americans because "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first."
(See our now-infamous video, shot by our own Alan Breslauer, at right.)
As today's (actually July's) report reveals, that wouldn't be the only unfortunate --- and one might say, "ironic", given his position --- derogatory remark made about African-Americans by Tanner. But the bulk of the report, it seems, is devoted to one Bradley Schlozman, who insidiously twisted the mission of the Civil Rights division, brought political prosecutions in order to try and affect the outcome of elections, in violation of written DoJ policy, and attempted (and arguably succeeded) in helping to engineer an outright illegal, and ideological purge --- an ethical cleansing, if you will --- at the department, in an attempt to stack it with far rightwing brethren from the Federalist Society, or "right thinking Americans" (RTAs), as he referred to them among friends...
On Monday, we reported on former Senator Norm Coleman's right to challenge the election results in Minnesota which found Al Franken the winner by 225 votes before Franken is officially seated by the Senate.
That is, of course, the appropriate way to allow for election challengers to have their day in court, without nearly-insurmountable prejudice being stacked against them by having their opponent already seated. Incredibly enough, that's not the way most states do it, as most send officially certified results to Congress --- effectively, and Constitutionally, according to judicial precedent, handing jurisdiction of the seating of the member to a partisan Congress, robbing voters and local courts of having the final say --- before legal election contests are fully settled.
On Tuesday, Coleman filed his expected election contest in state court, which Franken's attorneys memorably described as "the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers ... that they have been serving the last few weeks."
We've been on the road since the complaint was filed, and haven't had time to review the 204-page suit [PDF] ourselves, but thankfully, TPM's Eric Kleefeld has done so, and reports it as "a marvelous thing"...