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Trump overrules Sessions: DOJ won’t target marijuana in states like Colorado where the drug is legal

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How did this shift come about? Was Trump persuaded on the federalist merits of letting states take the lead on setting marijuana policy? Or did Cory Gardner’s hardball tactics of blockading Senate confirmation of DOJ nominees until the White House reversed itself win the day?

Or … did POTUS realize that few things would piss off his least favorite cabinet nominee more than easing off the war on weed? If so, border hawks should start urging Sessions to take a strong “please don’t build the wall” line in public.

To be fair to Sessions, his determination to enforce federal pot laws in states where it’s legal has been overstated. All he said when he rescinded the Obama DOJ’s hands-off policy was that the local U.S. Attorneys in each state should use their discretion in prosecuting offenders. Last month he watered that down further by urging U.S. Attorneys not to bother with “small marijuana cases.” He’s not demanding that the DEA start rounding up potheads in Denver. But even so:

In a phone call late Wednesday, Trump told Gardner that despite the DOJ memo, the marijuana industry in Colorado will not be targeted, the senator said in a statement Friday. Satisfied, the first-term senator is now backing down from his nominee blockade.

“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” Gardner said Friday. “Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.”

He added: “Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all. Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees.”

The last part is big news, if true. A federal law requiring the DOJ to defer to states on marijuana enforcement would go a long way towards destigmatizing the drug; if you’re pro-legalization, or at least pro-decriminalization at the federal level, that’s obviously a major step. (“We may now be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said one prominent Colorado legalization advocate.) It’d also bring President Trump back into line with candidate Trump’s campaign promises. WaPo flagged this short clip from summer 2016 in its story about this today:

Marijuana stocks surged on news of the new policy, which is what you’d expect when an industry in perpetual legal limbo gets a jolt towards legitimacy. One obvious question, though: Is Trump serious about this or is it another example of him telling someone (in this case Gardner) what they want to hear when they’re right in front of him, only to reverse himself privately five minutes later? Legalization advocates are cautious:

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and the co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called Gardner’s announcement “another head-spinning moment.”

“We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way.”

The case for optimism here is that this isn’t an out-of-the-blue reversal a la Trump telling Larry Kudlow to take a look at rejoining TPP. The legalization side has a powerful advocate in Gardner, a senator from a swing state and current chair of the NRSC. If Trump were to reverse himself again, presumably Gardner would reinstate his hold on Trump nominees in the Senate. He has leverage to make sure POTUS keeps his promise. The case for pessimism is that congressional compromise on culture-war issues is always hard and this is, after all, a midterm year. Ryan and McConnell might conclude that they have enough problems this fall already that they shouldn’t do anything that might risk alienating senior citizens. Even if it looks like a “let the states decide” bill on marijuana might have 218 votes in the House, Ryan could invoke the Hastert Rule to say that unless a majority of his own caucus supports it, it’s not coming to the floor.

He should consider two things, though. One: Letting the states lead on marijuana is an issue that polls fantastically well. There’s still considerable Republican opposition to legalizing marijuana outright, but a federalist approach that has the DOJ defer to the states on enforcement routinely does supermajority numbers in surveys. The risk of Ryan angering his own base by passing Gardner’s legislation isn’t that great and may even be marginal if Trump is true to his word and backs the legislation, bringing MAGA Nation into line. Two: Because there’s already bipartisan support and Trump seems onboard with the idea, it’s a cinch that some bill like Gardner’s will pass the House next year if Democrats take back the chamber this fall. That being so, why would Ryan let Pelosi have the credit for passing a 70-percent issue when he can do it himself right now? If anything, having the GOP majority pass it now might ease some of the enthusiasm that left-leaning marijuana legalization advocates feel to vote in November.

Exit question: If even Mr Establishment is now singing the praises of weed, how far away can we be from full legalization, realistically?

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Fearless Girl to stand on her own, at least for now

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Fearless Girl is finally going to move and, at least for now, she won’t be taking Charging Bull with her. The decision to move Fearless Girl a few blocks away to a position opposite the New York Stock Exchange was prompted by concerns about crowds and traffic. From the NY Daily News:

The much-beloved statue will depart her perch opposite the iconic Charging Bull to stare down some new scenery: The New York Stock Exchange, the Daily News has learned…

The move comes as the city and the company sought a more permanent home for the popular statue — and one with fewer safety issues than her current spot in a Bowling Green median, which gets overrun with onlookers who often stand in the busy street…

Due to safety concerns about traffic — and potential terror attacks using cars — the city said it was also exploring moving the Charging Bull itself.

But while Fearless Girl will move by year’s end, there are no immediate plans to move the bull — the city said Wednesday it was “exploring” putting it somewhere else downtown.

However, there’s really no doubt that Fearless Girl doesn’t work without some opponent to be fearless about. So will staring down the New York Stock Exchange be enough? The NY Times reports that Mayor de Blasio really wants to keep the statues together:

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said that it was important to the mayor, who has posed with “Fearless Girl” and spoken of its meaning to young women and girls, to keep the two works together.

“The mayor felt it was important that the ‘Fearless Girl’ be in a position to stand up to the bull and what it stands for,” said Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary. “That’s why we’re aiming to keep them together. The bull has also always been a traffic and safety issue the city’s hemmed and hawed over. The moves achieve a few goals.”

Artist Arturo Di Modica, the creator of Charging Bull, has said his figure was meant to be a symbol of “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” It was, of course, a symbol of America’s economic strength and, implicitly at least, of the power of capitalism itself. Di Modica felt the addition of Fearless Girl turned his optimistic statue into a corporate comment on gender politics and, worse, a threat to be defied.

It’s interesting that the progressive Mayor is so eager to maintain that reinterpretation of Di Modica’s art. In fact, I think his press secretary’s statement goes a long way to proving Di Modica’s point about the attempt to reinterpret his work. Fearless Girl isn’t just standing up to the bull but also “what it stands for.” Why would Mayor de Blasio want to do that? A statement he made last year to New York Magazine might give a hint:

I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development. . . .

Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality. [Emphasis added.]

Fearless Girl’s placement opposite Charging Bull goes well beyond standing up for more women in high finance jobs and boardrooms (the alleged point of the statue). The Mayor who praised the “socialistic impulse” toward government planning is doing is best to change one of the best-known symbols of America’s free market into a threat to be defied. I really don’t think that’s an accident.

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Whoa: DOJ Inspector General sends criminal referral for Andrew McCabe to U.S. Attorney

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You know who you can thank for this? James Comey! He’s the one who initiated the IG investigation into leaks to the WSJ in October 2016 about the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, or so he claimed to the Daily Beast. Which makes this tweet from January seem … awkward now:

Comey will be on Jake Tapper’s show for an interview within the hour. I wonder what the first question will be.

The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the matter…

Lying to federal investigators is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and some legal analysts speculated in the wake of the report that the inspector general seemed to be laying out a case for accusing McCabe of such conduct. The report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies “was done knowingly and intentionally” — which is a key aspect of the federal crime

Ironically, Comey — who appointed McCabe to his post as the No. 2 official in the FBI — stressed in his book released this week the importance of telling the truth to federal investigators and holding accountable those who do not.

“People must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system or the system can’t work,” wrote Comey in his new book, per WaPo, and how here we are. Will the next McCabe fundraising webathon be for bail money?

Comey reiterated yesterday on “The View” when asked about McCabe that lying to the feds isn’t okay. McCabe and his lawyer didn’t like that:

“In his comments this week about the McCabe matter, former FBI Director James Comey has relied on the accuracy and the soundness of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) conclusions in their report on Mr. McCabe. In fact, the report fails to adequately address the evidence (including sworn testimony) and documents that prove that Mr. McCabe advised Director Comey repeatedly that he was working with the Wall Street Journal on the stories in question prior to publication. Neither Mr. Comey nor the OIG is infallible, and in this case neither of them has it right.”

The wrinkle here is that the IG’s recommendation is based partly on a test of credibility between McCabe and Comey himself. McCabe claims that when Comey asked him in October 2016 whether he had authorized any info on the Clinton Foundation probe to be released to the WSJ, McCabe told him yes, that he was working with the paper to correct inaccuracies in the story. Comey, however, told the IG that McCabe told him he didn’t know who’d been talking to the paper. Upon further investigation, the IG agreed with Comey. Which is to say, if this turns into a prosecution — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the star witness against Andrew McCabe might be … James Comey.

The statute here, by the way, is the same statute that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to violating: 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a crime to lie to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney will be under heavy political pressure to indict McCabe in order to show that the “no lying” rule applies to its own officers just as much as it does to Trump’s aides. Although I wonder if Trump might inadvertently let them off the hook by tweeting something celebratory about the McCabe referral, leaving the U.S. Attorney to argue that the president’s endless Twitter attacks on McCabe have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. As such, he might not be charged or, if he’s amenable, he may be allowed to cop a plea with a wrist-slap penalty. If anything is capable of driving home the lesson to Trump that he shouldn’t be tweeting about pending legal matters, watching McCabe walk free because of his big mouth might be it.

Nah, who are we kidding. Nothing will drive that lesson home. Exit question: What if McCabe and Michael Cohen end up as cellmates in the federal pen? I smell sitcom.

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Trump: Feds will not pay for Jerry Brown’s National Guard ‘charade’

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The war of words between President Trump and California Governor Jerry Brown over illegal immigration heated up again this morning. Just yesterday Gov. Brown suggested 400 National Guard troops would be headed for the border and that the federal government had agreed to pay for it. But this morning President Trump tweeted this:

This all started a couple weeks ago when President Trump announced that, since funding for his border wall was stalled, he was calling on states to send National Guard troops to the border. A week later, there was another surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he would be sending 400 National Guard troops to the border to fight smuggling and drug trafficking. However, Brown also drew a line at getting involved in preventing illegal immigration saying, “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

That made it a bit unclear what California’s troops were actually going to do. National Guard troops are not allowed to arrest people at the border. That’s the job of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Troops from other states were using surveillance equipment and notifying the border patrol if they saw someone trying to cross the border. They were also given jobs doing paperwork and other support roles aimed at freeing up more border patrol officers. But earlier this week the Associated Press reported that California was rejecting most of the actual jobs the border patrol wanted the troops to do.

The state informed federal officials it will not allow its troops to fix and repair vehicles, operate remotely-controlled surveillance cameras to report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, operate radios and provide “mission support,” which can include clerical work, buying gas and handling payroll, according to officials with knowledge of the talks who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The next day, California officials said they were not backing away from sending troops to the border even as a CBP Deputy Commissioner confirmed the core of the Associated Press report, i.e. Gov. Brown would not let his troops do a number of support jobs for the border patrol.

Wednesday, Gov. Brown released a statement saying 400 troops were headed to the border, “after securing the federal government’s commitment this week to fund the mission.” That certainly makes it sound as if some agreement has been reached. But if so, Trump’s tweet this morning appears to be rejecting that agreement. So far, there has not been a response from Gov. Brown clarifying whether or not his National Guard troops are still headed for the border.

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