There’s a famous scene in State and Main in which Alec Baldwin’s character tries to launch a station wagon from a ramp. He flips the car and skids into a lightpole. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character rushes to see if he’s OK, and Baldwin just laughs and says, “So, that happened.”
That’s pretty much how we feel by Friday afternoon each week. This week on the 2020 primary front, Michael Bloomberg earned his way onto the stage for the Nevada debate, but probably wished he hadn’t. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was sentenced to prison, after lots of back-and-forth about the proper sentence and possible political meddling in the process. Donald Trump, who has issued very few clemencies during his term, pardoned Rod Blagojevich, Bernie Kerik, Michael Milken, and several others. And the New York Times ran an op-ed by a U.S designated terrorist without disclosing that fact—or many, many others. We took a deep breath or two and tried to cover it all.
Jack Goldsmith, former assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, continued his good work for The Dispatch on the Roger Stone sentencing. A group of former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General William Barr to resign, but Goldsmith cautions “not so fast.” Barr certainly created some problems for himself but, “Despite his mistakes, Barr clearly understands the importance of the appearance as well as the reality of even-handed justice, and very few people who are qualified to be attorney general have the stature to stand up to President Trump the way that Barr did last week. If Barr resigns, Trump can appoint an “Acting” replacement who will surely be more compliant.”
There was a bonus Vital Interests newsletter this week from Tom Joscelyn, who took time out of long-planned Disney vacation to weigh in on a curious editorial decision by the New York Times. The digital ink was barely dry on his Wednesday edition—looking at how the United States might get out of Afghanistan without re-creating the conditions that got us there in the first place—when the New York Times published an op-ed by the deputy leader of the Taliban. Since the NYT didn’t provide much background on Haqqani, Joscelyn, in his just-the-facts-ma’am style, reminded readers that Haqqani is a designated terrorist with a $10 million reward on his head, and that Haqqani, whose father helped train Osama bin Laden, and helps run the infamous Haqqani network, had extensive ties to al-Qaeda. Haqqani played the NYT, which allowed him to portray himself as an advocate of peace just one month after the Haqqani network’s media arm released a video celebrating suicide bombs targeting “crusader invaders”—that is, American troops and our allies. Joscelyn’s analysis generated lots of attention in military and intelligence circles—it’s easy to see why.