The word that made history this week

(CNN)Every presidential investigation gives us new phrases that stick. “What did the President know, and when did he know it,” Sen. Howard Baker asked during the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

Future historians may not yet have a defining quote from the investigation of President Donald Trump (one contender from Trump after he learned about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment: “This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f****d.”)
But his attorney general, William Barr, threw a memorable line into the mix this week when he referred to a previously undisclosed letter he received from Mueller in dismissive terms: “You know, the letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.”
    “Snitty” turned out to be an apt word for much of the reaction to this week’s events. Our legal analysts couldn’t have differed more strongly on what it all meant. Paul Callan wrote, “Barr did not deserve Mueller’s snit nor any of the snitty abuse heaped on him for doing his job. His interpretations were a defensible analysis of a report that was poorly written.”
    Elie Honig painted a much different picture. He called Barr’s testimony before a Senate committee “a master class in obfuscation, backtracking and blame-shifting. This performance would’ve been pathetic coming from an ordinary witness — never mind from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.”
    In Vanity Fair, Abigail Tracy wrote that Democrats, wary of the “optics” of impeaching Trump, might just choose to try impeaching his attorney general instead. It “could be a creative way for Democratic leadership to placate the progressive and activist wings of the party,” she wrote.
    And in The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell argued that Barr’s biggest misdeed this week actually wasn’t what he told the Senate committee: It was his department’s effort to get Obamacare thrown out by the courts.

    Tale of two letters

    Snitty or not, Mueller’s letter impressed a third legal analyst, Shanlon Wu, who compared it favorably to former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s resignation letter: “Rosenstein’s letter reads like that of a middle-schooler whose favorite book is “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” In only six short paragraphs, Rosenstein manages to quote Thomas Paine, Robert Jackson, Edward Levi, John Ashcroft and close with President Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ exhortation.”
    Other writers continued to pore over Mueller’s 448-page report. John Avlon found a trove of buried leads and questions still worth investigating. Alexander Urbelis said the report sheds light on the prosecution of Julian Assange.
    Taking a longer view, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on candidates to pledge to refuse help from foreign powers that try to interfere in their elections.
    The Nixon and Clinton scandals were on the mind of Joe Lockhart, who urged divided Democrats to keep pursuing investigations of Trump despite fears of a voter backlash: “It was Congress’ determination to get to the bottom of Watergate that exposed the pervasive corruption of the Nixon administration.”

    The Impossible Whopper

    No, it’s not another phrase for a politician’s outlandish lie. The Impossible Whopper is a plant-based patty that Burger King is promising to roll out nationally this year. Researchers Tim Searchinger and Richard Waite called the news potentially historic: Meat substitutes could help save huge amounts of forest land that might otherwise be cleared for raising beef cattle to feed a fast-growing world population. “Beef uses roughly 20 times more land and releases 20 times more greenhouse gases for the same amount of protein as common plant proteins such as beans.”

    Whom to root for in Venezuela

    In Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaido made his move to oust President Nicolas Maduro, and the results were inconclusive. What to make of the situation? “Above all, we should view Venezuela as a human tragedy,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “If you don’t know who to root for as you see reports of competing forces and hear accounts of rival narratives, root for the Venezuelan people. Rooting for the Venezuelan people means hoping that Maduro will step down peacefully, bringing to a close the most disastrous regime Venezuela has ever seen.”

    After Poway

    “Today should have been my funeral,” wrote Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, California, in a New York Times opinion piece. Two days earlier, a 19-year-old shooter attacked his congregation, killing one member and wounding three, including the rabbi. “I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure.
    Eighteen-year-old writer Daniel Blokh responded to the Poway shooting, which came six months after an attack that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, by describing how poetry has helped him process his thoughts and emotions on hate killings.
    “If this attack seems sickeningly familiar to many Americans, that’s because it is,” wrote Peter Bergen. The Poway shooter appeared to have been inspired by the Pittsburgh shooter as well as the attacks against mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. “Like school shooters, terrorists learn from and emulate other terrorists,” he noted, and outlined three ways to seek to prevent domestic terrorism. One of them is for President Donald Trump to stop defending his controversial “very fine people on both sides” remark he made about the August 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
    Nicole Hemmer, who has studied those events, wrote that it’s vital to be clear-eyed about the context. The Charlottesville confrontation wasn’t about preserving historic monuments to Robert E. Lee, as Trump recently told a reporter, she wrote. “The President and his allies continue to provide cover for the racist violence in Charlottesville, and the violent ideology propagated there.”

    Unpacking ‘Game of Thrones’

    Seconds after the gargantuan Battle of Winterfell came to its abrupt end, the tweets, recaps and op-eds on the third episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones” started flooding in. In Wired, “Angry Staff Officer” provided an unusual take: a “tactical analysis” of the mistakes made by the castle’s defenders and the forces of the Night King (for example: sending the Dothraki cavalry into an attack without knowing more about the enemy’s forces wasn’t the smartest idea).
    UK-based cultural critic Kate Maltby noticed that while formerly despised male characters such as Theon Greyjoy and Jaime Lannister were having their reputations redeemed on the HBO show, there seemed to be no such absolution for women. “Without a culture that forgives past sins, we’d all be lost. But we need to be clear about who is permitted a redemptive journey and who isn’t. In the world of ‘Game of Thrones,’ that means men.” (HBO is a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, which owns CNN.)
    Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi suggested that the ultimate winner in the final three episodes would turn out to be a woman who has overcome all kinds of adversity: Sansa Stark.

    Best of times, worst of times?

    The Labor Department reported Friday that the jobless rate had fallen to the lowest level since 1969, with hiring and wages up strongly.
    Positive news about the economy raises a key political question, wrote Julian Zelizer, earlier in the week. “With an economy as strong as the one that the nation currently enjoys — 3.2% growth in this year’s first quarter — President Donald Trump should be feeling pretty good about his prospects for re-election. In post-WWII history, the only presidents who have failed to win re-election struggled with a tough economy (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush), or decided not to run (Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson). So, why are 20 Democratic candidates running to unseat President Trump?”
    Given Trump’s historically low approval rating and concerns about health care and the President’s values, “Democrats are betting that even if the economic numbers hold, the President is extremely vulnerable.”

    NRA upheaval

    The wheels threatened to fall off at the once-invincible National Rifle Association as the organization tried to cope with internal disputes, deficits, lawsuits and an investigation, wrote John Avlon: “Now that the New York attorney general has sent out subpoenas, this is a scandal the NRA probably won’t be able to spin its way out of.”
    The organization faces a deeper problem than money woes, wrote Jill Filipovic: “People may be the ones who kill people, but when they use guns, that killing becomes remarkably efficient, and the numbers of dead and injured are exponentially higher. … It’s not ill-gotten green changing hands that the NRA truly needs to worry about. It’s ordinary Americans looking around and concluding that the NRA has blood on its hands.”

    RIP: John Singleton

    John Singleton was only 24 when he was nominated in 1992 for a Best Director Oscar for “Boyz n the Hood,” becoming the youngest person and the first African American nominated for that honor.
    A year later, a line in that film — “Turned on the TV this morning. … Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s goin’ on in the ‘hood” — inspired then-16-year-old S. Mitra Kalita to change her career plans and become a journalist. “I decided that the power to make decisions about what people read, see or watch is the ultimate power indeed. I vowed to be more reflective, inclusive and accurate in my portrayal of the world. Just as John Singleton was.
    Singleton died this week, after suffering a stroke at the age of 51.
    Historian Peniel Joseph was 18 when he saw “Boyz” and was mesmerized by it. “More than any filmmaker of his generation, Singleton humanized the black experience by plumbing the pain behind the statistics of what commentators dubbed ‘black on black crime’ to reveal the emotional depth and breadth of African-American life that contained as much joy, laughter and genius as it did pain, sorrow and death.”

    A walk down Sesame Street

    Where exactly is Sesame Street? It’s not in the middle of Manhattan, despite the sign placed there this week, wrote Allison Hope. “It always has and always will belong to the people in the outer boroughs. … Sesame Street is a tight-knit neighborhood with people (and puppets) of all colors and creeds. They sit on stoops on warm summer evenings and get yelled at by grouchy residents who live in beaten-up garbage bins barely large enough to fit them. None of that sounds like Manhattan.”

    Surviving and relearning

    Michael Hayden, a CNN national security analyst who once headed the CIA and National Security Agency, suffered a stroke last fall. In his first article since then, the retired four-star general bravely explored the challenges of relearning everyday tasks. “It is humbling to face these challenges that were once so routine. To dress. To eat. To walk. To read. …. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues who continue to call and visit and speak with me. With every conversation I become stronger.”

    Improving lives, and overcoming fears

    Ashton Lattimore wrote that “awareness of the United States’ abysmal statistics on black maternal mortality has been growing” and noted that “Sen. Elizabeth Warren rolled out a plan to offer ‘bonus’ funds to hospitals that reduce their rates of maternal mortality among black women — and to penalize those that don’t confront the problem.”
    All necessary, she wrote. But “as a black woman who’s five months along in my pregnancy, it brings unwelcome reminders of the risks to me and my baby,” Lattimore wrote. “It’s imperative that the solutions we look toward include long-term systemic fixes, but also shorter-term stopgap measures that can help black women whose pregnancies will have begun and ended before the next presidential election comes around.”

    The end of asylum

    Rafia Zakaria put under a microscope the recent changes in refugee asylum policy announced by President Trump and Attorney General Barr. She didn’t like what she saw: “Cleverly hiding xenophobia under legalese and statutory mumbo jumbo are tools that the Trump administration have deployed to detract from the fact that the possibility of asylum, as it has existed in the United States, is being virtually eliminated for most of the world’s persecuted people.”
    Former Sen. Rick Santorum welcomed Trump’s focus on the border, crediting him with facing a problem others have ducked. But in addition to expecting stronger action by the Northern Triangle countries to fix problems that are driving their citizens north, the United States has to provide more aid. Santorum wrote: “Addressing the root causes of trouble is a better investment than inheriting the aftermath, as we see now on our southern border. Foreign assistance is critical, and it’s a bargain compared to the security costs of having failed states on our doorstep.”

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