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Judge releases New Mexico county official charged in Capitol riot

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Judge releases New Mexico county official charged in Capitol riot

However, after a hearing held by videoconference on Friday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell overturned that decision. Howell has made clear her outrage over the Jan. 6 riot and she underscored that sentiment Friday, but she said Griffin’s alleged actions did not place him among the most legally culpable for the riot.

“In contrast to most of the brazen rioters, he was not armed and he left the Capitol grounds peacefully,” Howell said. “He was not a participant in the violent break-in at the Capitol or the marauding mob roaming the halls of the legislative branch of government on Jan. 6, and the charge he now faces reflects that fact.”

Griffin faces a misdemeanor charge of entering a Secret Service-restricted area.

Howell acknowledged that Griffin’s statements — including one declaring “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” — provoked justified anger.

“These are all words that are deeply disturbing, especially when considered in conjunction with the defendant’s decision to return with firearms to D.C. shortly before the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20,” she said.

“His words certainly reflect strong convictions that many in this country would consider unpatriotic, obnoxious, repugnant to the democratic process and certainly harmful to the American body politic, when he’s talking about fellow Americans,” Howell said, pausing for emphasis on the last phrase.

The judge rejected First Amendment claims from Griffin’s lawyers that his statements should not be considered as part of the detention issue, but she said they didn’t mean he was likely to ignore the court’s orders.

Howell also expressed concern that, given trial delays related to the pandemic, Griffin might end up spending more time awaiting trial than he would be sentenced to if found guilty in the case.

Howell’s ruling was unexpected because she has, thus far, seemed to take a tough line in cases stemming from the violence at the Capitol last month. She has halted releases of about a half-dozen defendants whom magistrate judges outside Washington had cleared to go home to await further court dates.

Most of her orders in those cases are temporary stays, keeping those charged in jail pending a further hearing. But last week, she overturned a release order for Richard Barnett, the Arkansas man who posed casually with his boot up on a desk in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the riot.

During that hearing, Howell — an Obama appointee who served as a Senate Judiciary Committee counsel and whose office looks out on the Capitol a few blocks away — seemed to be brimming with anger about the storming of the historic building during the Electoral College proceedings last month.

“What happened on that day in the U.S. Capitol was criminal activity that is destined to go down in the history books of our country. … This was not a peaceful protest,” the judge said last week. “We’re still living here in Washington, D.C., with the consequences of the violence in which this defendant is accused to have participated.”

But on Friday, Howell sounded inclined to draw a legal line between those who entered the Capitol and those who did not.

Still, she was not impressed by arguments from Griffin’s lawyers, who contend that the charge in the case may be legally flawed because the government cannot prove that Griffin knew a Secret Service protectee such as Vice President Mike Pence was in the Capitol. They’ve also argued that the Capitol and the area on the west front steps that Griffin entered are legally distinct, since Pence never was on or headed to the west front that day.

The prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janani Iyengar, said one way the government plans to prove Griffin knew Pence would be there is that the New Mexico official attended President Donald Trump’s rally on the Ellipse where Trump publicly called attention to the vice president’s role at the Capitol that day.

Howell asked Griffin’s attorney, Nicholas Smith, if Griffin was there when Trump spoke. The attorney declined to say.

Howell said the defense had engaged in “some dissection of the statute,” but that the evidence against Griffin from social media posts and comments by other witnesses “does appear strong.” She also said she bets that Griffin was actually at Trump’s speech.

“It would surprise me if he came all the way to D.C. on Jan. 6 and decided to skip a rally that the president was speaking at for people like him, Mr. Griffin, who have bought — hook, line and sinker — the story that this was not a fair election,” the judge said.

Griffin spoke briefly at the end of the hearing. Reporters who were able to monitor the session by telephone could hear him politely telling the judge he understood the conditions of release and that he could be thrown back in jail if, for instance, he tries to come back to Washington for reasons other than court appearances.

Griffin’s lawyers were delighted with the judge’s decision, with one asking her as the session concluded to release it as a published opinion. For her part, the judge seemed less enthused.

“I’m absolutely not going to publish it, but, thank you,” she said.

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

Before you join the chorus, you might want to check in with the last two Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both landed in office with much bigger majorities, and ended up taking it on the chin anyway. Despite the narrowest of majorities to get anything done, Biden, in fact, may be in a much better position.

When Clinton came to power in 1993, he had wide majorities in both houses: 57 Democrats in the Senate, and 258 Democrats in the House. But the resistance to his key economic package was so intense within his own party that his plan passed by just a single vote in both the House and the Senate, and only after important elements of that plan—like a gasoline tax—were thrown over the side to win the votes of suburban Democrats.

When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Democrats and their independent allies held 59 seats in the Senate, and when Al Franken finally claimed his seat months later, they had a supermajority of 60—enough to overcome a filibuster. But in order to hold those votes, the Obama Administration had to keep the cost of its Great Recession stimulus package under $1 trillion—an amount, his team later conceded, was too small to trigger a robust recovery. Similarly, in order to get reluctant Democrats like Joe Lieberman to vote for the Affordable Care Act, the White House had to kill the public health-insurance option, which left progressive Democrats disheartened. (As Obama accounts in his memoir, “A Promised Land,” the handwringing from members of his own party took much of the shine off his signature achievement as president, the biggest expansion of health care since Medicare.)

The two ex-presidents also share a common, painful experience with the political consequences of their battles. Clinton’s tax and budget initiatives were aimed at reducing the then-unacceptable budget deficit of some $250 billion—a deficit that helped propel independent candidate Ross Perot to 19 percent of the vote in 1992. (I hope you realize we’ve become Eisenhower Republicans, Clinton groused to his staff.) The policy ultimately worked—Washington was running a huge surplus by the end of the Clinton years—but in the short term it was a political liability, leading to the loss of both houses of Congress in 1994.

For Obama, the slow pace of the recovery and the Republicans’ relentless political attacks on Obamacare led to massive midterm losses in 2010 at every level. The House turned Republican, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and 18 state legislatures turned red—a political upheaval that is still tormenting Democrats as they watch those legislatures push through voter suppression laws that will shape American elections for years to come.

But this time, Democrats may be able to provide a more upbeat answer to a question the approach of Passover inspires: “Why is this one-vote victory different from the other one-vote victories?”

This time, the benefits to tens of millions of Americans will be clear: $1,400 in bank accounts; extended jobless benefits; expanded childcare help. Donald Trump understood the impact of such assistance when he insisted his name be on the checks sent to American households. Joe Biden won’t be as blatant, but the direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.

And this time, the bill that was passed was backed by enormous majorities of the citizenry—polls suggest that as many as 75 percent support the Covid plan, including clear majorities of Republicans. This suggests that the unanimous opposition to the plan by Congressional Republicans may leave the party with a political posture at a polar extreme from where they were in 1994 and 2009. The GOP was able to (inaccurately) pin Clinton with the “largest tax increase in history”; they were able to characterize the Obama stimulus and the Affordable Care Act as a giveaway to “those people.” But if the polls are right, Republican efforts to paint the Covid relief as a “blue state bailout” or a “Pelosi payoff” aren’t working.

More significant, if the impact of $1,400 payments, the vaccination assistance and the other elements of the plan are really felt back home—by voters, who notice the difference in their bank accounts and their health—it is actually conceivable that the line “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” could become something other than the punchline of a joke.

It is, of course, possible that all those proposals that fell by the wayside—the $15 minimum wage, higher income limits on the stimulus checks, bigger jobless benefit—will trigger so much grousing from progressives that Biden has trouble keeping his own side of the aisle in line. If they’re thinking about 2022, they should be careful how much complaining they do. With the slimmest possible of majorities, Biden managed to push through something whose potential political payoff his two Democratic predecessors would have envied.

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo’s place

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo's place

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi or another state legislator

Why they can win: Democrats have an extremely deep bench in the state Legislature. Dozens of their 150 members are more viable than state Sen. George Pataki was 20 months before the 1994 election, when he beat Mario Cuomo, and it’s certainly possible that some unexpected rank-and-file member will launch a serious campaign.

The two legislators who are mentioned most often are Biaggi and state Sen. Jessica Ramos. Both are part of the young freshman class that helped their party take an operative majority in their chamber in 2018. And both would have a good chance at winning the support of the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. Biaggi has already been acting like a primary candidate, spending recent weeks at the forefront of opposition to the Cuomo administration.

One wild card: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest-ranking lawmaker in the state Senate. Nobody would have a better chance at clearing the room with a campaign declaration than Stewart-Cousins, whose tenure leading the historically factional Democratic conference has been met with rave reviews from moderates and socialists alike.

Why they can’t win: Pataki was able to win by latching onto then-Sen. Al D’Amato’s statewide campaign apparatus. There are some groups with a statewide presence with whom candidates like Biaggi or Ramos can ally — most prominently, the Working Families Party. But their major successes in recent years have come in legislative or congressional campaigns, and they’ve yet to prove they can be the decisive factor in a statewide race.

Candidates can, of course, build their own networks. But particularly for those who have minimal name recognition outside of a district that represents less than 2 percent of the state, that’s the type of organizing they would need to get started on very soon.

As for Stewart-Cousins, the biggest obstacle standing in her way is that she’s never given the slightest hint that she’s interested in statewide office.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick

Why he can win: Myrick might be in a unique position. At 33, he’s already been the focus of numerous effusive national profiles for topics like his recent efforts to enact the most sweeping police reforms in the country, and he would have as good a chance as anybody to win over the newly energized young leftists.

Unlike other progressive candidates who are similarly well-positioned, his tenure as the mayor of an upstate city — albeit a small and atypical one — would put him less at risk of laying an egg north of Yonkers.

Why he can’t win: While he might be able to avoid the attacks that he’s a “New York City socialist,” he’s still pretty far to the left. Democrats might have shifted in that direction in recent years, but there’s still not a lot of evidence that positions like defunding the police and establishing heroin injection sites will win over voters in Hempstead.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

Robert O’Brien, who was former President Donald Trump’s last national security advisor, is rejoining the law firm he co-founded in Los Angeles, according to a person familiar with the matter.

O’Brien recently moved back to LA and is returning to Larson LLP, a litigation firm, with around 30 lawyers, that he started in 2016 with former federal judge Stephen G. Larson. O’Brien will be Of Counsel to the firm and will have an international practice on arbitration. Last month, the Nixon Foundation announced that O’Brien would co-chair its foundation’s monthly foreign policy seminar with former Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Henry Kissinger.

O’Brien, who arguably had the lowest public profile of Trump’s four national security advisors, prioritized focusing on America’s geostrategic competition with China and also worked on the Abraham Accords and economic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, among other foreign policy issues. A fierce advocate on television for Trump’s policies, he also downsized the NSC’s staff. He also drew negative attention in two complaints filed by whistleblowers.

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