Scandals Ensnare New York and Virginia House Republicans

Two scandals involving different members of the House Republican caucus erupted in the span of 12 hours.

While most political observers were waiting for results to come in from Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio last night, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) announced that he was severing ties with a campaign consultant less than three months before Election Day. This decision came amid allegations that Taylor’s campaign staff had collected petitions with forged signatures to get former Democratic candidate Shaun Brown on the November general election ballot, with the intention of having Brown siphon votes in the general election from Taylor’s Democratic challenger Elaine Luria.  The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney asked Circuit Judge Glenn Croshaw to appoint a special prosecutor. Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell was picked for the job.

Reaction from the Democratic Party of Virginia:

“Democrats and Republicans agree that the integrity of our election process is paramount. VA-02 voters deserve to know if Congressman Taylor’s paid staff violated the law and if all candidates received the required number of signatures to make the ballot this November. We look forward to seeing the results of Commonwealth’s Attorney Caldwell’s investigation into this matter.”

Reaction from the Luria campaign (Caveat: this statement is dated August 1, before Caldwell’s appointment was announced):

“Dirty and deceptive politics like this are exactly why Washington is broken and people are losing faith in their government. Clearly, Scott Taylor is terrified and willing to do anything to avoid going head to head with Commander Luria,” said Kathryn Sorenson, Elaine Luria’s Campaign Manager.

This morning, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against Rep. Charles Collins (R-N.Y.), his son, and his son’s fiancee’s father on allegations of insider trading.  (You can read the document here, or watch the press conference here) Speaker Paul Ryan announced he was stripping Collins of his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until the allegations were resolved.  Collins has said he will fight the charges and continue his reelection campaign in November.

Both districts are usually reliably Republican, but both incumbents are now under a legal cloud that may or may not dissipate before the election. What political effect, if any, these legal developments will have on Taylor and Collins is not known. The Collins indictment virtually assures that ethics will become a major issue in this cycle, though most of the ethics scandals of the past two years have involved Trump cabinet officials like Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke, not to mention the President himself. Democrats used the “culture of corruption” message to devastating effect in flipping the House of Representatives in 2006, so it’s likely they will use an updated version of that playbook for the next three months.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Reinstate Trump Travel Ban

A late night decision (Read the PDF here) from a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came down in the early hours of Sunday morning:

Washington (CNN)A federal appeals court early Sunday morning denied the US government’s emergency request to resume President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has asked for both sides to file legal briefs before the court makes its final decision after a federal judge halted the program on Friday.

What this means is that the ruling by US District Court Judge James Robart, who suspended the ban, will remain in place — for now.

The US Justice Department filed an appeal just after midnight Sunday, asking to pause Robart’s sweeping decision that temporarily halted enforcement of several key provisions of Trump’s executive order.

Lawyers from both sides have until Monday (tomorrow) to make any filings. If the Ninth Circuit upholds Robart’s TRO, expect the Department of Justice to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. If SCOTUS agrees to hear the case with its current 8 justice lineup, that means that if the opinion is a 4-4 partisan split, the Ninth Circuit opinion will stand. If the Supreme Court rules by a 5-3 majority or greater, then its opinion will supersede the Ninth Circuit’s.

Federal Government Revoked 100,000 Visas, DOJ Lawyer Tells Court

In addition to the Temporary Restraining Order issued by a federal judge in Washington, the Trump administration got more bad news out of the Eastern District of Virginia yesterday:

First, Judge Leonie Brinkema (a Clinton appointee to the federal bench) agreed to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s motion to expand the scope of individuals affected by the Trump administration’s executive law to include visa holders, in addition to to green card holders.  According to a statement from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, the Commonwealth will argue in favor of a motion for a preliminary injunction at a hearing scheduled for February 10.

Second, Judge Brinkema issued a one-page order (Read the PDF here) requiring the federal government to provide the Commonwealth of Virginia “a list of all persons who have been denied entry to or removed from the United States since the Executive Order entitled ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ was signed.” Judge Brinkema’s order applies to anyone who was a Virginia resident on the morning of January 27, 2017, and “had lawful permanent resident status, an immigrant visa (or accompanying family or spousal visa), a valid student visa (or accompanying family or spousal visa), or a valid work visa (or accompanying family or spousal visa) by the close of business on Thursday, February 9,2017.”

Third was the biggest bombshell to come out of yesterday’s hearing, which will likely cause the Trump administration no small amount of political and legal headaches for the foreseeable future. Erez Reuveni, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation, told the court, “Over 100,000 visas were revoked on Friday at 6:30 p.m.,” referring to the date the executive order was signed.  According to a Daily Beast reporter who was in the courtroom at the time:

The State Department disputed that figure, saying it was only 60,000 visas that had been revoked. Regardless of which figure is ultimately correct, why is it such a problem for the administration? Again, from Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff:

The President himself cited that same 109 figure earlier this week:

In other words, the administration downplayed the impact of the Executive Order, potentially by a magnitude of 1,000.  (That doesn’t mean that 60,000-100,000 people were detained at or deported from various airports, it means that 60,000-100,000 visas were revoked by the federal government as a consequence of the order.)

Expect all the plaintiffs filing lawsuits against the administration across the country to use that 100,000 visas figure in court and in every filing that will come up in the days and weeks ahead.