Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

The Fall

All political power is unitary. It is one of the great lessons for thinking about politics. You are always in the process of adding to it or diminishing it. Assert power and sustain it and you gain power. Fail to do so and a politician grows weaker. This is why the concept of expending ‘political capital’ is mostly nonsense.

We have seen this unfolding before us over the last month. President Trump now daily asserts power he cannot sustain. ‘Law and Order’ street fighting confrontations using the US military, Bolton’s book, bungled DOJ purges, a humiliating Tulsa venture. Each gambit newly exposes his deteriorating power and thus hastens the process, emboldening others to oppose or resist him.

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The Tell

Just a quick note on the statement the attorney general put out this afternoon announcing that President Trump has indeed now fired the U.S. attorney in Manhattan:

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More Complicated Than It Looks

An anonymous DOJ vet shares some key details about Geoff Berman’s unique legal status as US Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

Many others weighing in about the SDNY fiasco, but I’m not seeing this point, which is worth considering.

Even if Trump can ultimately dislodge Berman (under 28 USC 541 he, though not Barr, can likely fire him), he can’t pick the temporary replacement. Until the Senate confirms someone, that choice plainly belongs exclusively to the SDNY judges under 18 USC 846. If Trump tries to ignore that and install his own pick anyway he faces two problems he can’t easily overcome. First, there would be a staff revolt. Second, every criminal defendant indicted under the bogus US Attorney would have standing to seek dismissal because the indictment was not authorized or signed by the lawful US Attorney — and those motions would be decided by the same SDNY judges whose authority Trump is trying to usurp.

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A Remarkable Turn of Events

A remarkable turn of events last night unfolding in New York City and Washington, DC. As you see in the headline, Bill Barr attempted a Friday Night purge of the Manhattan US Attorney’s office but it seems not to have gone according to plan. (This in itself is evidence of Trump’s ebbing power.) Barr announced that Geoff Berman, the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, had “resigned” “effective immediately” and was being replaced on a temporary basis by the next door US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Craig Carpenito. Barr further announced that President Trump would be nominating Jay Clayton, currently the Chairman of the SEC, to become the next US Attorney. There are a million things off about this; scheduling it on an exhausted Friday evening just puts a seal on that reality. But when I left off early yesterday evening I had at least assumed that Barr and Trump had made sure that Berman was going along with this or going quietly.

That turned out not to be true.

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Looking at the Numbers

Yesterday was the first day in the history of the COVID epidemic when the percentage of positive tests returned in New York State fell below 1%. You can see the trend here. Red is New York State and blue is the rest of the United States excluding New York State.

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