Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

November 13, 2018

How to Run Free and Fair Elections
Trump’s Strategy in Demonizing the Florida Recount
CNN Sues Trump to Restore Their White House Correspondent’s Access
Program Notes

We begin with the growing use of mail-in or absentee ballots in elections across the country and how in spite of late-into–the-election night media coverage which feeds the need for instant gratification, the volume coming in before and after election day tends to slow down the official results which don’t come until every vote is counted and the results certified. Amber McReynolds the Executive Director of the National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition who was previously the Director of Elections in Denver, Colorado, joins us to discuss President Trump’s sinister claim about the Florida recounts that “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” We analyze Trump’s absurd and illegal notion of going with the preliminary election night count since ballots are still coming into Florida from U.S. military personnel and citizens abroad along with provisional ballots which were an outcome of the Help America Vote Act following the 2000 Florida election debacle.

Then we examine the apparent strategy on the part of President Trump and Governor Scott to demonize the routine count of election results in Florida to rile up their supporters who are demonstrating at the election headquarters in Broward County intimidating the staff who are counting the outstanding ballots and conducting the legally-mandated recount underway of the U.S. Senate race with a razor-thin margin of votes which could end up either way. Steven Huefner, a Professor of Law and Judicial Administration and Senior Fellow of Election Law at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and co-author of “From Registration to Recounts: The Election Ecosystems of Five Midwestern States”, joins us. We assess whether Trump is undermining the legitimacy of a possible win for the Democrat should the recount hand Senator Nelson a narrow victory.

Then finally we speak with Mark Feldstein, a Professor and Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland who for two decades was an award-winning investigative correspondent for CNN, ABC News and NBC, about CNN suing President Trump and top White House aides for barring their White House correspondent Jim Acosta. We discuss how the White House Press Secretary used a doctored videotape to justify taking away Acosta’s hard pass but now Sarah Sanders is claiming that Acosta is banned because he is rude to her boss who is hardly known for his gentility and politeness.

Amber McReynolds | Steven Huefner | Mark Feldstein


November 12, 2018

Demagoguery and Florida’s Incomplete Vote Count
What is Causing California’s Devastating Wildfires
Beto’s Example of Small Donations is the Way Forward for Democrats to Run Against Corruption
Program Notes

We begin with the contested electoral results in Florida amid increasingly nasty charges by Governor Scott who is clinging on to a narrow lead in the race for the U.S. Senate calling Senator Nelson “a sore loser” and alleging “he’s just here to steal this election” while President Trump weighs in with outrageous lies that “large numbers of ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged”. Dr. Susan MacManus, the Distinguished University Professor of Political Science at the University of South Florida who served as the Chair of the Florida Elections Commission joins us to discuss the lawsuits flying around the vote tallies which are incomplete with a likely recount by hand pending in the close race for the U.S. Senate. Once again as was the case with the infamous butterfly ballot in the Florida 2000 election debacle, the formatting of the ballot in heavily populated Democratic-leaning Broward County seems to be another case of the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot. The confusing layout of the ballot in Broward County prepared by the election supervisor who is a Democrat and approved by the local Democratic Party might explain why there was an under-vote for Senator Nelson on the same ballots with votes cast for the Democrat for Governor Andrew Gillum.

Then we look into the wildfires in California with a lot of attention focused on the destruction of homes belonging to celebrities in Malibu while the worst loss of life occurred in the burnt-out Northern California town of Paradise where over 200 are still unaccounted for. Leroy Westerling, the co-director of the Center for Climate Communication at the University of California, Merced joins us to discuss the role of climate change in the increasingly parched state of California and the management of forests which President Trump blames for the devastating fires. Citing without evidence poor forest management which many see as Trump parroting the talking points for lumber companies who want to harvest protected forests.

Then finally we speak with Lawrence Lessig, a Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School and founder of EqualCitizensUS, a non-profit dedicated to reforms that will achieve citizen equality. He joins us to discuss his article at The Guardian “Beto O’Rourke’s biggest blind spot cost him Texas. Democrats take note”, and how the strongest message Democrats could run on is anti-corruption with Beto’s successful example of record fundraising from small donations being the way forward to sever the corrupt ties of big money in our politics.

Susan MacManus | Leroy Westerling | Lawrence Lessig


November 11, 2018

A Subject of an FBI Investigation Now in Charge of the FBI?
Nationalism and the Causes of World War I
The Filmmaker of the Stunning New Feature Documentary “Of Fathers and Sons”
Program Notes

We will begin with the president distancing himself from his own appointment of Matthew Whitaker as the acting Attorney General by going out of his way to repeatedly claim he does not know Whitaker even though they met frequently at the White House because Trump refused to meet with Whitaker’s boss Jeff Session and instead dealt with the AG’s chief of staff Whitaker who was deliberately installed at the Justice Department as the White House’s eyes and ears. Lisa Graves who has served as a senior adviser in all three branches of the federal government including as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, Chief Counsel for Nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as a Deputy Chief for the U.S. Courts, joins us. We will discuss Whitaker’s role as a shill for a bottom-feeding invention promotion operation in Miami that scammed inventors many of whom were veterans which the FBI investigated, resulting in the company going out of business and paying fines. In both promoting the scam then intimidating the victims who claimed they were ripped off by the scam, Whitaker uses his credentials as a former U.S. Attorney and now as Acting AG, he oversees the FBI which investigated him.

Then with President Trump’s cancellation on Saturday of his visit to a U.S. military cemetery in France to honor the American fallen in World War I, we discuss the gathering of world leaders for the 100th anniversary of the armistice at which the President of France Emmanuel Macron used the opportunity to denounce Trump’s embrace of nationalism describing nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism”. Along with chauvinism, nationalism was an undeniable cause of World War 1 in which 20 million died, a half of whom were civilians, along with 117,000 Americans. Geoffrey Wawro, a Professor and the Director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas and the author of A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire, joins us to discuss whether the intellectually incurious Donald Trump, who gets a lot of his information from conspiracy sites like Infowars, could be educated by his peers to accept the lessons of history.

Then finally we are joined in the studio byTalal Derki, a documentary filmmaker who was born in Damascus and has been based in Berlin since 2014. He joins us to discuss his new documentary feature just out, “Of Fathers and Sons”, which reveals how deeply rooted Salafist Islam practiced by Al Qaeda and promoted by Saudi Arabia is in the lives of the father and sons facing death as their country Syria is destroyed. This powerful and important film brings a unique insight to Western audiences who for the first time will begin to understand what inspires and motivates jihadists to fight corrupt regimes in the Middle East and the U.S. which they see as the far enemy.

Lisa Graves | Geoffrey Wawro | Talal Derki


November 8, 2018

An Acting AG with Neither the Legal, Ethical, Moral or Judicial Qualifications
Has Trump Found His Roy Cohn in Matthew Whitaker?
The Looming Possibility of Impeachment If Trump Moves to Fire Mueller
Program Notes

Hello and welcome to Background Briefing available 24/7 at backgroundbriefing.org -- I’m Ian Masters and today we will look into a number of stories and issues in the news. We will begin with Trump’s new Attorney General now in charge of the Mueller investigation who appears to have neither the legal, ethical, moral or judicial qualifications to be the nation’s top lawman. Furthermore his appointment itself according to a former solicitor general and George Conway, the husband of White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway, is a betrayal of “the entire structure of our charter document” meaning “Constitutionally, Matthew Whitaker is a nobody”. Harry Litman, a former United States attorney and deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, joins us to discuss his articles at the Washington Post “The Mueller probe could be in mortal danger”as well as an article at The New York Times “Congress Can Issue Subpoenas. Will They Matter” and whether at best Whitaker will tell Trump what Mueller has on him, or at worst shut down the investigation and bury the report. We examine how Whitaker essentially auditioned for the job as a Trump loyalist by going on CNN to attack the Mueller probe, then the White House engineered his appointment as Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff so that Whitaker could be the White House’s eyes and ears at the Justice Department. And now this unqualified ideologue with bizarre and reactionary views on the law itself, is the acting Attorney General of the United States.

Then we speak with Cory Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University as well as a visiting professor of law at Fordham Law School and author of the new book “The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents”. He joins us to discuss whether Trump has found his Roy Cohn in Matthew Whitaker and how Whitaker does not believe in Marbury Versus Madison which is the foundation of our judiciary, but believes that judges should be chosen on whether they “Are people of Faith. Do they have a biblical view of justice?”

Then finally, although there has been yet another mass shooting not far from where we are broadcasting, we will pause on covering this tragedy until there is more information and instead look into the important races left hanging after the election in Florida and Georgia and speak with the author of the new book “The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present”. Allan Lichtman, a political historian of American politics at American University who has correctly predicted the outcomes of all presidential elections since 1984, including, against all odds, Trump’s election, joins us to discuss the looming possibility of impeachment if Trump moves to fire Mueller.

Harry Litman | Cory Brettschneider | Allan Lichtman


November 7, 2018

Trump Moves to Muzzle Mueller
Trump’s Propagandist-in-Chief
American Democracy is Becoming Less Competitive and More Unrepresentative
Program Notes

We begin with the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his replacement with a Trump loyalist and assess the growing possibility that the Mueller probe will be shut down or have its scope and independence curtailed if not neutered. Joshua Geltzer, the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection who served as Senior Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff and as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Justice Department, joins us. We will discuss the significance of the next in line Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein being skipped over with Trump installing Session’s chief of staff Matthew Whitaker who has been critical of the Mueller investigation. Adding to concerns that we may be on the cusp of a constitutional crisis, at today’s combative press conference Trump remarked that he has the power to fire Mueller if he wanted to. And following an election in which Republicans won key races by a razor-thin margin, we also discuss Joshua Geltzer’s article at Just Security, “Don’t Be Fooled: There Was Election Interference in 2018”.

Then following an election in which Fox News made no pretense at being a journalistic outlet with Sean Hannity appearing on stage at a rally with Trump and Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt telling the press to report the news the way Trump wants it, we speak with Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. He joins us to discuss his new book “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics” and Trump’s enabler in propaganda Rupert Murdoch and the phony war with the press on display today in the White House with Trump casting the press as the enemy of the people to distract from the obvious fact that the truth is the enemy of Donald Trump.

Then finally with the Democrats getting a much-needed win to take over the House while the Republicans extended their control over the Senate, we will examine how we are moving into a new normal in which the Democrats routinely will get a majority of the vote but still end up unable to gain meaningful political power. Sanford Levinson, who holds the Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School and is the co-author of “Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today” joins us to discuss this daunting prospect facing the Democrats in the long-term as American democracy become less competitive and more unrepresentative.

Joshua Geltzer | Yochai Benkler | Sanford Levinson



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