In today's Principals, the January 6th report drops and a much pettier and weirder scandal unfolds.͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏
with Steve Clemons
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As is so often the case, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. got what he wanted. The Senate minority leader ignored the jeering from his right and helped push through the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that rained billions more on the Pentagon than the White House had requested, secured aid for Ukraine, and kept down domestic spending.
Many have been surprised by how frequently McConnell chose to play ball on bipartisan legislation over the past two years, but as our Joseph Zeballos-Roig writes today, it was part of a successful strategy to pursue some of his own self-interested goals, like keeping centrists happy so they would protect the filibuster.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and there is a war in Europe. I texted with the French Ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne who was in Congress as a guest to hear President Zelenskyy’s speech; he responded to those who are wondering out loud if Europe should do more to shoulder the burden of Ukraine.
By the way: Etienne, who has served the last three years as Ambassador and previously as President Macron’s national security advisor, will be returning to France early next year. He will be replaced by the current French Ambassador to China, Laurent Bili. You heard it here first.
Back on the homefront, the final Jan. 6th report is out, and Morgan Chalfant and Shelby Talcott look at whether Cassidy Hutchinson’s original lawyer committed some light obstruction of justice. In weirder and smaller scandal news, Benjy Sarlin finds that one element of Rep.-elect George Santos’ “biography” is at least partly true.
Now have a wonderful holiday and Merry Christmas!
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☞ White House: Biden and the first lady will visit Children’s National Hospital today to meet with patients and staff ahead of the Christmas holiday.
☞ Chuck Schumer: The majority leader can breathe a sigh of relief now that the Senate has finished work on the omnibus and packed up for the holidays. He’s already back to boasting about the number of Biden-nominated judges confirmed by the Senate in the past two years.
☞ Mitch McConnell: The minority leader is touting the boost in military spending and the preservation of the legislative filibuster as two of his biggest victories for Senate Republicans in the last Congress. Looking ahead, he told NBC News he has “a really good relationship with McCarthy, but he’s got a difficult hand to play.”
☞ Nancy Pelosi: The Speaker will cap off her last day as caucus leader by shepherding a $1.7 trillion government funding bill to passage just hours before the deadline.
☞ Kevin McCarthy: Eighteen Republican Senators ignored McCarthy’s threat and voted for the omnibus anyway — now what? The GOP leader is expected to push back against the omnibus vote today using his “magic minute” of unlimited speaking time, the question is how much time will he spend doing it.
The long-awaited Jan. 6th committee report dropped overnight. It’s the length of a Tolstoy novel and reporters and analysts are still hurriedly going over the details (the Washington Post credited 22 people on their initial writeup).
While the report covers many aspects of the attempt to overturn the election and additional materials on security failures, its main body begins with a declaration that “the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”
The report contains the committee’s final recommendations, including a call to bar individuals who tried to overturn the election — i.e. Trump — from state or federal positions based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on officeholders who “engaged in insurrection.” Other recommendations included reforms to the Electoral Count Act, which the House is expected to pass today, and a renewed focus on domestic extremism by law enforcement.
House Democrats have their Biden defender. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor and star of former President Trump’s second impeachment trial, will serve as the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee where he’ll be tasked with pushing back on GOP investigations.
North Korea supplied the Russian paramilitary organization the Wagner Group with rockets and missiles over the last month, according to the White House. The force, run by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is operating in Ukraine as the Russian army struggles to maintain fresh troops and equipment.
Putin finally called his invasion of Ukraine a “war,” after eschewing the term for months in favor of the euphemism “a special military operation.”
— Morgan Chalfant and Benjy Sarlin
Punchbowl News: Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the Trump investigations at DOJ, has irked leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee by blocking access to information related to the probe of Trump’s handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Playbook: Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., one of the House conservatives opposed to McCarthy for speaker, told Politico that McCarthy “is not a conservative” and speculated that he delayed organizing decisions until next year because he’s promised “multiple people the same thing.”
The Early 202: New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley told the Washington Post it’s “certainly a possibility” Biden loses the Granite State in 2024 if Democrats change the primary calendar so it moves New Hampshire back.
Surprise: George Santos might be sort of telling the truth about something
Congressman-elect George Santos, R-NY, who is accused of faking just about every single aspect of his biography, said on Twitter he had a “story to tell” and would clear things up “next week.”
New York’s Attorney General Letitia James will be listening — her office indicated Thursday it was looking into whether any of the numerous discrepancies in his claims merit further legal investigation, He stands accused of possibly faking his education, his work, his charity, his real estate holdings, and even his Jewish heritage.
In the meantime, though, we did find at least some partial corroboration for one currently contested part of his life story: his marriage.
George Santos does have a husband, sources say, or at least a partner.
“I've known his husband for several years and have interacted with him on a few social occasions and at political events,” Charles Moran, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, told Semafor. “That said, the current story is about George, not his spouse, so I don't really know why any of this is relevant.”
The Daily Beast failed to find a marriage license for their union, sparking a round of speculation about whether Santos — who the outlet also reported had not disclosed a 2019 divorce to a woman — had invented his current marriage, especially given a dearth of photos on social media or references to a wedding online.
A political researcher who had looked into Santos referred Semafor to social media accounts associated with his alleged spouse (one of which shows him and Santos together in the Capitol). A profile in a Portuguese-language outlet in 2020 identified his partner as a 24-year old pharmacist born in Brazil and noted their wedding had been delayed by the pandemic.
Santos brought up his husband on Twitter on Sunday in an exchange with Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. over House Republican opposition to gay marriage. He previously claimed that his then-fiancé was threatened with termination from jobs twice during the pandemic — first for appearing maskless at Mar a Lago, then for refusing to obey a vaccine mandate due to allergies. Semafor has not independently verified either claim.
The fact “Does George Santos’ husband exist?” is a question that needs to be reported out speaks to the extreme weirdness of this situation. It’s now news when even minor parts of his biography — like working at a DISH Network call center in his early 20s — turn out to be true.
ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT
Maybe he has a decent explanation for all of this…?
Kadia Goba contributed to this story
Sen. Todd Young explains why bipartisanship came back in style — and why it might be doomed
Much of Washington scoffed when Joe Biden promised to bring back the art of the bipartisan deal making as he ran for president.
But then the unthinkable occurred. During the 117th Congress, lawmakers broke through gridlock to pass major legislation backed by both parties on infrastructure, guns, computer chips, veterans’ health benefits, and marriage equality. They’re capping off that run this week with a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that will provide a big jolt of aid to Ukraine and reform the Electoral Count Act to prevent another January 6th-style coup attempt.
How did it all happen? Sen. Todd Young, the Indiana Republican who helped author one of this year’s highest-profile bipartisan bills, recently offered his theory during a wide-ranging sitdown with Semafor Tuesday.
The short version? Working across the aisle helped Republicans keep the filibuster alive in a 50-50 Senate by giving Joe Manchin, D-W.V. and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. wins they could point to while under pressure from their Democratic colleagues to junk it.
“The place worked in part because you didn't have leadership try to blow up deals,” Young said, praising Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Instead, we wanted them to get center-right or center-left deals that had broad appeal among the American people but as importantly, kept Sinema and Manchin happy so they didn't join the 'eliminate the filibuster' crowd. It was a wise calculation.”
McConnell said much the same in an NBC interview published Thursday. He told the network that while passing the bipartisan bills was in the “best interest of the country,” it also “may have reassured” Manchin and Sinema that they were correct to oppose nuking the filibuster.
The fact that some old ideological lines between the parties have begun to blur, at least on economics, also may have opened up space for cooperation.
Young is at the vanguard of Republicans willing to toss out GOP orthodoxy against federal intervention in most industries if it means safeguarding national security and competing against China’s rising influence. Partnering up with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Young pushed the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act over the finish line this summer. The bill poured money into subsidizing U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and authorized funding for bleeding-edge tech research.
“We at the federal level of government can't just ignore these things and crack open Adam Smith as an A-to-Z manual on what to do,” Young said, referring to the Scottish economist many consider the godfather of free-market philosophy. “We need to respect the power of markets but also ensure that our markets can work when tested.”
There was, of course, plenty of partisan feuding over the last couple years. The CHIPS and Science Act almost fell victim to it when McConnell threatened to kill the legislation if Democrats went ahead on their party-line climate and prescription drug reform bill. The move angered Manchin and ultimately failed to stop what came to be the Inflation Reduction Act.
Young also suggested CHIPS would have drawn more GOP support under a Republican administration. “I had countless colleagues approach me and say that they believed in this investment and believed it was important to national security and economic security,” he said. “But they shared with me this was a very hard argument for some constituents.”
Going forward next year, Young still thinks there’s room for bipartisan cooperation when it comes to boosting tech and competing against Beijing, particularly in hypersonics research and quantum computing.
As for other issues? Don’t hold your breath. He’s anticipating a “nasty” fight on the debt limit in the new year, which may well sap momentum from everything else. “Let's hope that Democrats make some hard decisions on the spending front because it looks inevitable that there will be a standoff,” Young said.
— Joseph Zeballos-Roig
So did Cassidy Hutchinson's lawyer actually commit obstruction or what?
The story of Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who delivered explosive public testimony to the Jan. 6 select committee over the summer, took another dramatic turn Thursday, when the panel released new transcripts revealing that a Trump-connected lawyer seemingly tried to muffle her participation in the investigation.
Cassidy told the committee in September that as she prepared to testify, she was initially represented by Stefan Passantino, who served as an ethics lawyer in the Trump White House. She said Passantino urged her to downplay her memory of events leading up to the Capitol riot, and lean on the phrase “I do not recall” when she didn’t remember every detail.
“We just want to focus on protecting the President. We all know you’re loyal. Let’s just get you in and out, and this day will be easy, I promise,” Hutchinson recalled Passantino saying ahead of her first closed-door interview with the panel, according to the transcript unveiled on Thursday.
Hutchinson also said that Passantino tried to hook her up with job opportunities — some of them connected to the former president’s circle — and at one point suggested her legal bills were being paid by “Trump world.” At the same time, however, Hutchinson told the committee that Passantino “never” told her “to lie.”
The revelations have prompted a new question: Could Passantino face legal repercussions for his actions? We spoke to two lawyers about the developments, who had differing opinions on whether his actions might have constituted obstruction of justice.
“I have no doubt that if you can prove what he did, I would say you could easily charge him with obstruction of justice,” Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University and former prosecutor in the New York State Anti-Corruption Office, said. “What Cassidy describes is a lawyer’s way of accomplishing his objective and trying to cover himself. The lawyer in effect is counseling a client to avoid telling the truth.”
Jack Sharman, a white collar defense attorney who served as special counsel to the House for the Whitewater investigation, was more doubtful.
Sherman told Semafor that “obstruction statutes require some kind of level of wrongful or corrupt intent,” meaning it would require more investigation and evidence for the Justice Department to make any case.
“It could be terrible legal advice, but not a crime because an advice giver is incompetent, rather than corrupt,” Sharman said. He also said that the Justice Department would be sensitive about basing a charge on advice given by a lawyer to their client, given attorney-client privilege.
Passantino could still face other consequences, such as potential disbarment, both lawyers who spoke to Semafor said — though Sharman noted that the D.C. Bar would require an official complaint to act.
Passantino told media outlets in a statement that he represented Hutchinson “honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me.” He is currently on a leave of absence from his firm, Michael Best.
— Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant
One Good Text with ... French Ambassador Philippe Étienne
Stories that are being shared more widely across right-leaning or left-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.
WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to pass legislation that would stop union dues from automatically being taken from teachers’ checks and instead would require them to be paid separatel
WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Trump acknowledged he lost the 2020 election behind closed doors even as he kept fighting the results, a witness testified to the Jan. 6 committee.
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— Steve Clemons