A top Washington lobbying firm took up the cause of a powerful accused drug trafficker. With murder, cocaine, and bribery, it’s all a bit more than business as usual.
Meanwhile, it seems like nobody’s coming to the defense of Congressman Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation for illegally grooming a seventeen-year-old girl. Now, if the allegations are true, he stands to lose his committee assignments – and more.
And lastly, Democrats have been calling on Joe Biden to cancel student debt. Though he’s signaled reluctance before, there’s now some indication he might actually do it.
THESE ARE THE STORIES YOU NEED TO KNOW:
The Washington Post brings us this story of exceptionally scummy Beltway lobbying. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government retained a powerhouse Washington law firm to lobby US prosecutors to call off a state-sponsored drug trafficking probe of his brother, who was sentenced this week for smuggling one hundred and eighty five tons of cocaine into the United States. Prosecutors cited the failed September 2019 influence campaign by Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer LLP – along with the murder of four people linked to the investigation – in urging stiff punishment for Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández. US District Judge Kevin Castel of Manhattan sided with prosecutors, sentencing Hernández on Tuesday to life in prison plus thirty years and a $158 million fine.
According to the Post, Honduras in September 2019 retained a US law firm to lobby the prosecution team. Prosecutors did not name the firm, but Arnold and Porter separately disclosed the relationship. One of the most elite and prominent white-shoe firms in Washington, Arnold and Porter counts as alumni former Supreme Court nominee and current US Attorney General Merrick Garland and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith. Assistant US Attorneys Amanda Houle, Matthew Laroche and Jason Richman said they gave out no information and did not alter their trial presentation because of the firm’s campaign.
Prosecutors also cited the lobbying campaign among alleged obstruction efforts, the Post reports. Those efforts included the murders of a suspected US informant in a Honduran maximum security prison. In a sentencing filing, prosecutors wrote that Juan Antonio Hernández reaped blood money and trafficked drugs on a monumental scale in his violence- ravaged country, and funneled millions of dollars in bribes to politicians. A spokeswoman said Arnold and Porter declined to comment. Gee, I wonder why.
Gaetz could face ethics investigation
Here’s an update on one of the creepiest guys in Congress. Representative Matt Gaetz, facing accusations of a sexual relationship with an underage girl, should at a minimum be removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the claims are true, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, according to the Associated Press. Pelosi also said the House Ethics Committee should consider the allegations against the Florida Republican. Gaetz, thirty eight, who has been one of Donald Trump’s closest allies since coming to Congress in 2017, has said the accusations are false. The Justice Department has also been examining whether Gaetz has had relationships with other underage girls. Investigators are trying to determine whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws.
Gaetz has so far received little vocal support from his fellow Republicans, the AP reports. According to NBC News, Gaetz has found few people willing to defend him or lend credence to his claim that he's done nothing wrong but instead is being extorted and smeared. Trump has so far not spoken up. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he was surprised he hadn’t been able to reach Gaetz yet and that the allegations were serious. McCarthy said Gaetz will be removed from his committees if he is indicted, adding "He says this is not true. And we have a newspaper report that says something else. We'll find out."
Despite his high profile, Gaetz has few friends on Capitol Hill, NBC reports. His relentless self-promoting and near-daily appearances on Fox News stand out, even by the standards of Congress, where a generous ego and a hunger for the spotlight are practically job requirements. He criticized some of his Republican colleagues, accusing them of weakness and selling out the conservative cause. Big talk from a small, skeevy man with no friends.
Biden considers student debt cancellation
NBC brings us this update on a major issue for several generations of Americans, not to mention the wider economy. President Joe Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to prepare a memo on the president's legal authority to cancel student debt, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said yesterday, amid growing pressure for the administration to address the student loan crisis crippling millions of Americans. In an interview with Politico, Klain said Biden will make a decision on how to proceed once he reviews the memo, which could be sent to his desk within the next few weeks.
NBC reports that Klain's comments come as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other Democrats on Capitol Hill are pressuring Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt via executive action. Lawmakers have conceded that they lacked the needed Republican support to pass a bill that would do the same. Biden has voiced support for canceling up to $10,000. But he has said he does not think he has the legal authority to unilaterally wipe out as much as $50,000 without congressional action.
The Department of Education memo is being conducted jointly with the Department of Justice, with the Department of Education taking the lead, NBC reports. More than forty million Americans are estimated to have student loan debt. The Federal Reserve estimates that in the third quarter of 2020, Americans owed more than $1.7 trillion in student loans. Studies show that students of color are more likely to take on student debt and disproportionately struggle to pay it back. Here’s hoping Biden will make the right decision and cancel a large amount of debt. Otherwise, it seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to announce he’ll be doing nothing.
AND NOW FOR SOME QUICKER QUICKIES:
The gunman who killed four people, including a nine-year-old boy, at an Orange, California office park locked the gates to the complex with bike cable locks, police said yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Times. They said the gunman, Aminadab Gonzalez, and the victims were connected through business and personal ties. And it appeared that the boy died in the arms of a woman who was trying to save him. Terrible.
Food banks around the US continue giving away far more canned, packaged and fresh provisions than they did before the coronavirus outbreak tossed millions of people out of work, the AP reports. Food banks collectively distributed far more food – about forty two percent more – during the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period of 2019. They expect to collectively distribute the equivalent of six billion meals this year. Quite something considering this is still the world’s wealthiest country.
A potential breakthrough in the apparently deadlocked efforts to bring the US back into the nuclear deal with Iran is on the horizon after secret diplomatic talks in Frankfurt this week, the Guardian reports. The private discussions have focused on agreeing a framework whereby the US could start to lift sanctions in return for specific and verifiable steps by Iran to come back into full compliance with the deal. This would be a welcome development!
The Supreme Court of Virginia has cleared the way for the city of Charlottesville to take down the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that was the focus of 2017's deadly Unite the Right rally, the Washington Post reports. And yesterday’s ruling appears to open the door for statue removals around the state. Honestly, who needs ’em?
APRIL 02, 2021 - AM QUICKIE
HOSTS - Sam Seder & Lucie Steiner
WRITER - Corey Pein
PRODUCER - Dorsey Shaw
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER - Brendan Finn