Friday Open Thread

“An intelligent person is never afraid or ashamed to find errors in his understanding of things.”

–Bryant H. McGill

“Post-9/11 Recovery Funds?” You Mean the “Bush Tax Cuts?”

The ethics complaint filed by former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty against former Gov. John Hickenlooper has been generally discounted by knowledgeable observers looking at what appear to be the innocuous facts of some travel Hickenlooper took as governor–including in large part by Hickenlooper’s primary opponents. Despite this, the process of such a complaint against either a sitting or a former elected official provides political opponents numerous opportunities to pitch negative stories along the way to reporters, sometimes with success and sometimes not.

One of those fairly predictable negative pitches involves the fact that the legal defense for public officials in ethics proceedings in Colorado is paid for by the state. Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, for example, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars unsuccessfully defending himself against an ethics complaint stemming from his use of discretionary funds for partisan political event travel. In the case of the complaint against Hickenlooper, the Denver Post and 9NEWS both reported yesterday that the public has picked up a little north of $40,000 of the tab for defending Hickenlooper from McNulty.

There’s nothing unusual in reporting on a detail like this, and we’re happy to recount news reports of Gessler’s legal tab for that particular case. But the Denver Post led its story with a bizarre detail that we’ve been puzzling about all day:

John Hickenlooper’s attorney has been paid $43,390 — at a rate of $525 per hour — in taxpayer money to defend him before the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission as part of an arrangement that dates back to the former governor’s time in office.

It’s common for Colorado elected officials to be represented by government lawyers, or by private attorneys enlisted by the government, but in this case, the recipient of the money was hidden and the money came from a federal fund meant to help the state after 9/11. [Pols emphasis]

Wait, what? Post 9/11 economic recovery fund? What in the hell is that?

Here’s what the Post’s Justin Wingerter writes to back up his sensational allegation:

According to the transparency database, money paid by the state to Grueskin comes from the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, a bundle of federal dollars allocated as part of a President George W. Bush-era plan to jump-start the post-9/11 economy. [Pols emphasis]

You haven’t heard of this “post-9/11 recovery fund” because nobody ever called it that. What Wingerter is referring to is the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, otherwise known as the “Bush Tax Cuts.”

Of course, the 2003 Bush Tax Cuts did pass through Congress “post-9/11.” In that regard, every piece of legislation that has been approved since September 11, 2001 could also be called “post-9/11.” This executive order from Gov. Bill Owens in 2003 — which is linked in the Post story — makes no mention whatsoever of “9/11.” The money allocated in the Bush Tax Cuts went to all sorts of purposes, including immunization programs and charter school construction. Nobody would characterize the 2003 Bush tax cuts as “9/11 relief” because that’s not how they were sold even at the time.

The group that filed this ethics complaint in the first place, which is run by former State House Speaker Frank McNulty, is trying to re-name decades-old legislation in order to give their flailing argument a boost. Today, two Republican lawmakers are speaking out in an effort to boost this “9/11 relief” nonsense. As Marianne Goodland writes for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:

Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, R-Watkins, sent a letter to chair and vice-chair of the Legislative Audit Committee on Thursday, seeking an investigation into “the inappropriate, perhaps illegal” use of federal dollars for Hickenlooper’s legal bills. Bockenfeld and Lundeen are both members of the audit committee…

…That letter, which was obtained by Colorado Politics, said those federal dollars were intended to “jump start” Colorado’s post-9/11 economy. According to an executive order from then-Gov. Bill Owens, the dollars were to provide “essential government services or to cover the costs of certain unfunded federal mandates.”

The letter said the executive order does not say anything about being used to cover legal bills for Hickenlooper’s private lawyers. Since it does not allow for those kinds of expenses, no argument can be made that paying Hickenlooper’s legal bills “is an essential government service or unfunded federal mandate,” the letter said. [Pols emphasis]

Great work, detectives. It would be very odd indeed if the 2003 executive order said something about the money being used to cover Governor Hickenlooper’s legal bills, since Hickenlooper was at that point in time beginning his first term as MAYOR OF DENVER. 

There will inevitably be negative stories that present themselves in the process of an ethics complaint. Whether it’s Scott Gessler or John Hickenlooper, nobody enjoys reading about taxpayer dollars spent on legal defense. But taxpayer money is often used for the legal defense of elected officials who were serving in publicly-funded jobs at the time. The real absurdity here is the “9/11 relief funds” angle on the original Post story, which no doubt helped generate clicks to the Post website but has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

If there’s something we’re missing here, the comment section is open.

Nunes, Republicans Get Smacked for Silly Questions

Fiona Hill isn’t playing around.

Fiona Hill, a former member of President Trump’s national security team and an advisor on Russia, is testifying publicly today as part of impeachment hearings into Trump’s bribery scandal with Ukraine. Hill also took her opportunity in front of the cameras to push back against Republican conspiracy theories that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections — ideas that are being promoted by the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes.

As The Washington Post explains:

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services,” Hill said in her opening statement.

The statement amounted to a rebuke of President Trump; Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee; and others who have advanced claims that it was Ukraine — and not Russia — that waged information warfare against the United States in 2016.

“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country,” she said.

Hill’s testimony sets the stage for an extraordinary development in the impeachment hearings, with Trump’s former top adviser on Russia essentially telling the public under oath that his refusal to accept the reality of Moscow’s intervention in 2016 is wrong.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions,” Hill said. “It is beyond dispute.” [Pols emphasis]

Nunes and other Republicans have continually sought to sow Ukrainian conspiracy theories into impeachment testimony. On Wednesday, Nunes said point-blank that Democrats “got campaign dirt from Ukrainians in the 2016 election” and “were heavily involved, working with Ukrainians, to dirty up the Trump campaign.”

Via CNN (11/21/19)

Hill’s statements today are another black eye for Nunes, a staunch Trump ally who has played the role of a bumbling fool for much of the impeachment process. As Salon.com reports, Nunes’ opening statement on Wednesday — prior to the explosive testimony of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland — indicated that he was completely unprepared for the day’s testimony:

Nunes began by comparing the Democrats’ impeachment push to former special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe, listing off numerous charges that although he dismissed at false were actually proven true.

“Trump had a diabolical plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow,” he said. (True.) “Trump changed the Republican National Committee platform to hurt Ukraine and benefit Russia,” he added. (True.) “Trump’s son-in-law lied about his Russian contacts while obtaining his security clearance,” he continued. (True.)

“It’s a long list of false charges, and that’s merely a partial list,” Nunes declared after reading the largely corroborated list.

Nunes then went on to claim that Democrats were again pushing false charges in the Ukraine case.

“When the Democrats can’t get any traction for their allegations of a quid pro quo, they move the goalposts and accuse the president of extortion, then bribery, and as a last resort, obstructing justice,” Nunes said, moments before Sondland explicitly described a “quid pro quo.” [Pols emphasis]

Nunes has, in fact, turned into something of a Trump clone. He has devoted much of his time during impeachment hearings to floating miscellaneous conspiracy theories and attacking the media. As CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes, Nunes appears to be concerned only with how he appears to President Trump.

Via The Atlantic (11/20/19)

Is all of this obfuscation and verbal nonsense from Nunes actually working in Trump’s favor and weakening the case for impeachment? As The Hill explains, pictures tell the story better than anything Nunes can say. This brief montage from The Daily Show works even better:

 

DeGette, Perlmutter Call For Firing Of Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller.

The Hill:

More than 100 Democratic lawmakers on Thursday signed on to a letter calling for President Trump to fire senior adviser Stephen Miller as a civil rights group details hundreds of controversial emails he sent prior to his time in the administration…

Democrats and civil rights groups have hammered Miller over the past week as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) publishes summaries of emails the White House aide sent in 2015 and 2016 prior to working in the White House.

The emails, roughly two dozen of which have been reviewed by The Hill, contain links and references to publications associated with white nationalism and show how Miller coordinated with Breitbart News to shape coverage around immigration and the 2016 GOP primary.

From today’s letter, whose signers include Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado:

Last week, numerous emails sent by Mr. Miller were made public that clearly establish that he is an avid white nationalist and conspiracy theorist. These emails included material exposing Miller’s support of white supremacist ideology and literature, xenophobic conspiracy theories, as well as his promotion of white supremacist websites. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog, which obtained the emails, 80 percent of the more than 900 emails directly referenced race or immigration, and none contained “examples of Miller writing sympathetically or even in neutral tones about any person who is non-white or foreign-born.” Given Mr. Miller’s role in shaping immigration policy for your administration, his documented dedication to extremist, anti-immigrant ideology and conspiracy-mongering is disqualifying.

Beyond the disturbing emails that Mr. Miller wrote, is the clear conclusion that he brought his dedication to white nationalism with him into your administration and translated this hateful ideology directly into your administration’s discriminatory immigration policies. Mr. Miller’s documented hatred of Muslim immigrants shaped your Muslim ban, and sheds new light on your administration’s intent in writing that ban. Mr. Miller’s clear support for halting all immigration is evident in many forms, including your continued support for ending DACA as well as the increasing difficulty of obtaining asylum and visas across all categories. There is a clear line between Miller’s advocacy for books like “Camp of the Saints,”–a novel celebrated by neo- Nazis for promoting the view of non-white immigrants as “monsters”–and the Administration’s inhumane family separation policy, of which Miller was the primary architect.

Since the release by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) of emails documenting Stephen Miller’s predilection for openly racist and xenophobic points of view, including material from the infamous VDARE hate site of which Colorado nativist politico Tom Tancredo is a former board member, calls for Miller’s ouster have spread from usual-suspect Democrats to potentially more influential quarters like the Anti Defamation League. On the other hand, Miller is reportedly a personal favorite of President Donald Trump due to Miller’s unvarnished “toughness,” which has helped Miller hold on to power while the Trump administration in general suffers from chronic “high turnover.”

Whether or not Miller weathers this latest storm, he’s become another living example of the worst fears about a public figure proving accurate. It’s not always the case, but sometimes the villains of the story manage to live up to their villainous billing.

Conservative Radio Host Wants To Hear From Gardner on Impeachment

(Him and everybody else – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

President Trump and Sen. Cory Gardner.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is dodging his conservative talk radio allies as the impeachment hearings move forward.

KNUS 710-AM’s Steffan Tubbs explained to his listeners Wednesday that he texted Gardner’s press office Tuesday morning to request an interview with Gardner on Thursday or Friday to discuss “impeachment inquiry, campaign, and Thanksgiving plans.”

Tubbs sent his text again to Gardner’s office on Wednesday morning and got a response saying, “Hey Steffan, taking a look at schedule and will circle back.”

Gardner’s office eventually texted Tubbs, “Unfortunately at this point the schedule is packed Thursday and Friday at that time. Sorry about that, and thanks for the invitation!”

Tubbs read Gardner’s response on air and then played audio of cricket noises.

Tubbs then said, “I’ve known Cory a long time. He is my friend.”

But that didn’t stop Tubbs from mocking Gardner’s recent news release–about multiple topics (mental health, China, renewable energy).

“You would not even have an internet story about what these press releases are talking about,” said Tubbs. “They might as well be saying, ‘Senator Cory Gardner woke up this morning and put first his left shoe on, tied it, and here comes the right shoe, it was followed closely after the left show, and in fact he did tie the right show as well.'”

“We are at a very critical time in this administration,” said an agitated Tubbs. “He is a Republican senator from Colorado.”

“There is nothing, nothing, on his Twitter account that has to do with impeachment,” said Tubbs. “…Where is his voice?”

(more…)

It Doesn’t Matter What Cory Gardner Thinks About Weed


Mitch McConnell, Cory Gardner.

As Westword’s Thomas Mitchell reports, legislation to end the federal blanket prohibition on marijuana and legitimize states like Colorado who have legalized cannabis is moving through the Democratic-controlled House:

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, better known as the MORE Act, would end federal marijuana prohibition while allowing states to regulate the plant as they see fit, as well as set up funding and programs that allow expungement for cannabis offenders and social equity within any potential federally legal pot industry.

Introduced by New York Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, the MORE Act passed 24-10 out of the House Judiciary Committee, setting up a future vote on the House floor. However, Nadler’s role as Judiciary Committee chairman enabled the bill’s quick markup, and Republican representatives don’t seem to think the bill would receive Senate approval if it passes the House. [Pols emphasis] Before the vote, several brought up the States Act, a Senate bill that would leave marijuana legalization to states.

Colorado Congressman Ken Buck unsuccessfully tried attaching the States Act as an amendment to the MORE Act, claiming the Senate isn’t likely to touch the latter.

The States Act, as our toker-friendly readers know, is legislation in the U.S. Senate that would similarly leave the regulation of cannabis up to individual states. A key difference between the States Act, which has bipartisan support in the Senate including both of Colorado’s U.S. Senators, and the MORE Act is that federal law enforcement would still be able to bring federal charges under the States Act over marijuana violations in states where the drug remains illegal.

The biggest problem with the passage of either bill, however, remains Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–who has remained a steadfast opponent of THC-bearing cannabis even while loosening his position on industrial non-narcotic hemp cultivation. McConnell claims that hemp and cannabis grown for consumption are “two entirely separate plants,” deeming marijuana to be hemp’s “illicit cousin, which I choose not to embrace.” McConnell’s opposition to marijuana legalization is effectively a roadblock to any legislation to end federal prohibition–and the legislative fight in the Senate may center on the more limited SAFE Banking Act, to free up banking services for legal marijuana businesses in legalized states who are dangerously forced to do their business in cash.

The point in all this, which we’ve made previously about other issues on which local Republicans feint to the center like healthcare and immigration, is that Sen. Cory Gardner’s longstanding lip service to supporting the end of federal prohibition of marijuana is hobbled by the Republican Senate leadership Gardner voted into power. Gardner can tell Colorado’s marijuana stakeholders whatever he wants, but if he’s not willing to force a showdown over the issue with his own Republican leadership, Gardner’s platitudes on this and every other subject are meaningless.

At the end of the day, you dance with the one who brung you.

Thursday Open Thread


“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

22 States Join Colorado To Stop “Faithless Electors”


A press release from Secretary of State Jena Griswold this afternoon:

Today, twenty-two states signed on to an amicus brief that underlines the urgency in Colorado’s petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an unprecedented decision issued in August in Baca v. Colorado Department of State. The 10th Circuit decision states that Colorado cannot remove presidential electors if they fail to cast their ballots in accordance with state law, which requires presidential electors to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won the most votes in Colorado. Because the 10th Circuit’s ruling impedes Colorado’s ability to enforce state law and has the potential to undermine voters across the nation, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and protect Americans’ fundamental right to self-determination.

In filing the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Secretary Jena Griswold said the 10th Circuit’s decision, if upheld, “undermines voters and sets a dangerous precedent for our nation. Unelected and unaccountable presidential electors should not be allowed to decide the presidential election without regard to voters’ choices and state law.”

The states that signed onto the brief request are Alaska, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Maryland, Nevada, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Tennessee, and Rhode Island.

“Having twenty-two states support our petition to the U.S. Supreme Court underlines the urgency of this matter. When Americans vote in the presidential election, we are exercising our most fundamental right – the right to self-governance and self-determination. We have to preserve that right. Without swift action by the Supreme Court, the foundation of our democracy is at risk,” said Griswold.

The appeals court decision last August in the Baca v. Colorado Department of State case sent a shock through many more state capitols than our own, since the ruling threatens to destabilize the entire Electoral College system used to elect Presidents since the founding of the Republic. Although the notion of “faithless electors” is not new and historically very rare, the heightened awareness of the power of the Electoral College after two presidential elections in the past 20 years were decided adverse to the winner of the nationwide popular vote–combined with a ruling enshrining the right of electors to go “faithless”–could make them a regular, unpredictable, and decidedly un-democratic component of future elections.

As we’ve discussed in this space, the decision also complicates the as-of-now stalled implementation of the state’s National Vote Compact law, which would assign the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Compact doesn’t have enough participating states to take effect, and the law in Colorado is under challenge via a statewide ballot question set for next November–but if the 10th Circuit’s ruling in this case prevails, NPV would be impossible to enforce here or anywhere else.

The one upside we can offer is that if the end result of this court battle is an Electoral College that no longer functions as the Founders intended, or no longer has the public’s confidence, it could result in the change the Electoral College’s opponents desire faster than any other means. We and everyone else with a stake in the outcome of presidential elections–meaning everybody–should be watching closely.

Who Will Be the Democratic Nominee for President in 2020?


Who fills this spot in 2020?

Since #SondlandSings is eating up most of the news coverage today, it’s easy to forget that there is another Democratic Presidential debate tonight in Atlanta, GA (or maybe it’s already over?)

You know what that means — it’s time again to ask the wise readers of Colorado Pols to predict the Democratic nominee for President in 2020. When we asked this question last month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren dwarfed all other Democratic candidates.

As always, we want to know what you think will happen here — not what you want to happen or who you personally might support. If you had to place a bet — right now — on the outcome of the Democratic Primary, where would you put your money? Who do you predict will be the Democratic nominee for President in 2020?

Click after the jump to cast your completely un-scientific vote…

(more…)

‘No-Pants’ Pastor Seulean Re-enters State House Race, Says His Party Bullied Him to Drop Out


(Modest Culottes! — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Cory Gardner, Corey Seulean.

Ultra-conservative Longmont Pastor Corey Seulean, who believes women shouldn’t wear pants, has decided to re-enter the House District 63 race after dropping out in September.

In a video announcement on his Facebook page, Seulean harshly criticized “a handful of powerful elites” in his own party who he claims bullied him into dropping out of the race, saying he “did so against [his] will and better judgment.” He blamed the attacks on “the Christian conservative base of the Republican Party.”

Seulean claimed that a “sitting politician” – whom he did not name – told him he was simply a “placeholder,” and that he needed to “be a team player” and “get out of the way” for a better candidate.

That candidate appears to be former state legislator Pat Miller, who announced her candidacy just days before Seulean dropped out. Miller won the endorsement of current HD63 representative Lori Saine, who’s term-limited.

“It is not just the Democrats who are corrupt,” Seulean said. “There are many in our own party as well.”

Despite his harsh criticism of the “mafia mentality” of those who pressured him to step down, however, Seulean pledged to “run a clean campaign” and urged his party to unite against what he views as the real enemy:

“Our enemy is the liberal, socialist, radical Democrats who want to destroy our state, tear up our constitution, make Colorado be like California, strip us of our God-given inalienable rights, kill our babies, take away our national voice in the presidential election, turn us into a sanctuary state and destroy our economy by crippling our oil and natural gas industry.”

If elected, Seulean said he’d “bring God back to our state politics.”

Seulean made national headlines following the Colorado Times Recorder’s reporting on his belief that it’s immodest for women to wear pants, and that they should instead wear either skirts or “modest culottes.” He dropped out of the race a month later, on Sept. 20.

But, But…Her Emails!?!


What is the password?

As The Daily Beast reports, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley recently made it a lot harder for Republicans to continue harping on emails sent by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

North Korea had just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska, and the Trump administration was scrambling to react. But it seems Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, had lost her password for classified communications.

That’s why on that fraught July 4, 2017, she was typing away on her BlackBerry 10 smartphone, sending “confidential” information over a system meant only for unclassified material.

Haley was in a rush as she headed to her office—“On my way in”—shooting emails back and forth with top aides who’d been with her since she was governor of South Carolina. She needed to make a statement, and they were drafting it for her. “Let’s clean this up,” she writes after looking at some of the copy. “Pretty this up for me,” she says.

The next day we discover what the problem is with her communications. “Can’t find my password for the high side,” she writes.

Haley was apparently sending classified information through an unsecured email system because she forgot her password to the secure account.

Let’s repeat that: Haley used an email system that was not secure because she couldn’t remember her password to the confidential account.

She might as well have just faxed someone a piece of paper with sharpie scribbles across the front.

Sondland Explodes Trump Impeachment Defense


UPDATE #3: Amber Phillips of The Washington Post has the same takeaway from today’s hearing:

Gordon Sondland has been considered a figure who could crack the impeachment inquiry wide open. Not just because he was the witness directly talking to President Trump about Ukraine but also because of who he is: a Republican and Trump donor, a high-profile ambassador unanimously confirmed by the Republican Senate.

And despite his background as a Trump ally — the president last month called him “a very good guy and a great American” — in his opening statement Wednesday, Sondland stepped on nearly all of Republicans’ primary defenses for the president.

—–

UPDATE #2: President Trump delivers some (kinda) prepared remarks. Via CNN:

This is not a joke.

—–

UPDATE: Check out Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican member on the House Intelligence Committee, sharing a concerned look with House Republican attorney Steve Castor:


—–

Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland is testifying publicly today in the impeachment hearings against President Trump, and he’s slamming the door shut on Trump’s defense. Read all about it at The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, Politico

Wednesday Open Thread


“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”

–Denis Diderot

Cory Gardner Says He Needs Money to Fight “Radical Liberal Hoard [sic]”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) recent fundraising letter attempts to scare Coloradans into donating to his reelection campaign by using extremely partisan language at odds with his claims of being a moderate, bipartisan dealmaker.

Toward the end of a four-page letter mailed to prospective donors, Gardner explains his need for money in extreme (though poorly copy-edited) language:

“To help me fight back the radical liberal hoard [sic] that is descending on Colorado to try to defeat me, please make a commitment to my campaign today…” writes Gardner.

It’s unclear which Coloradans specifically Gardner is referring to as part of the “radical liberal [horde] descending on Colorado,” but at the very least he includes his potential challengers, the two most prominent of whom (Hickenlooper and Romanoff) have lived in Colorado for decades. His language also invokes a longtime conservative complaint about liberal Coloradans who moved here from other states and shifting the political demographics.

An email to the Gardner campaign requesting clarification of whom he considers to be part of the “radical liberal [horde]” was not immediately returned.

In the postscript, Gardner continues to warn of “radical liberals” and of Democrats’ desire to institute socialism.

“They want to destroy me and elect a radical liberal to work with Schumer and Pelosi in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner writes.

(more…)

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