WASHINGTON – A picture is worth 1,000 words, at least that’s what the Justice Department seemed to hope this week when it released a photo of documents with colored covered sheets indicating their highly classified status, retrieved from former President Donald Trump’s Florida resort.
As if the photo wasn’t enough of a bombshell, the Justice Department said “government records were likely concealed and removed … and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” when officials tried to retrieve sensitive national security papers from Mar-a-Lago on June 3.
The photo and new information about the files found at Mar-a-Lago were contained in the Justice Department’s latest court filing in Trump’s bid for a “special master” — or outside expert appointed by the court — be assigned to review the documents removed from his property. That special master would set aside those that should be shielded from government review because of executive privilege, the president’s lawyers wrote the court.
In the June 3 search, Trump’s lawyers said that all the documents the government was looking for were contained in a storage area. But many of the additional documents collected on Aug. 8 by the FBI included files found elsewhere, including in a container in Trump’s office, according to the DOJ’s court filing. One has a cover sheet marked “HCS,” a government abbreviation for systems used to protect intelligence gathered from secret human sources.
On his social media platform Truth Social, Trump repeated his claim that he had used his authority to declassify the documents, a claim that has been met with skepticism from legal experts and specialist on executive privilege.
“Terrible the way the FBI, during the Raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see. Thought they wanted them kept Secret? Lucky I Declassified!” Trump posted.
The court-ordered seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 was initially decried by many Republicans as a politically motivated attempt to smear Trump. But GOP defense of the former president has become much rarer this week, with several GOP candidates, including Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters, scrubbing their web sites of references to the former president.
Meanwhile some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ducked reporters’ questions about the Justice Department’s latest revelations in the Mar-a-Lago court proceedings.
“I don’t have any observations about that,” McConnell said.
Meanwhile, in a Quinnipiac poll release this week but taken before the DOJ’s latest disclosures, respondents 50% to 41% said Trump should be prosecuted on criminal charges over his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.
But those respondents split along party lines.
Democrats (86% to 5%) and independents (52% to 39%) think Trump should be prosecuted on criminal charges, while Republicans (83% to 9%) think he should not be prosecuted on criminal charges.
Enlisting farmers to combat global warming
The Inflation Reduction Act will enlist farmers in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases and combat global warming.
The IRA increases a number of farm programs, at a cost of about $25 billion, that are hailed by environmentalists who are concerned with the impact of agriculture on global warming.
One would encourage farmers to adopt “diet and feed management to reduce enteric methane emissions from ruminants (mostly cows.)”
Another, called the Conservation Stewardship Program (“CSP”) would reward farmers who “directly improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses, or reduce, capture, avoid, or sequester carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide emissions, associated with agricultural production.” Some ways to do this is to plant “no till” crops and ground cover.
There’s also an increase in a program that pays farmers to enroll lands into either long-term or permanent easements.
In a story about the programs, the journal Science said that when settlers plowed the North American prairie, “they uncovered some of the most fertile soil in the world,” soil that contained a lot of carbon.
“But tilling those deep-rooted grasslands released massive amounts of underground carbon into the atmosphere,” the magazine said. “More greenhouse gases wafted into the skies when wetlands were drained and forests cleared for fields.”
The story concluded that it’s unclear whether the funding boost for conservation programs will help combat global warming because the IRA does not boost the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which tries to persuade farmers from converting grasslands or other carbon-rich lands to row crops such as corn and soybeans.
Funding and program changes for the CRS will be addressed in the next farm bill, which Congress hopes to complete next year.
The Conservation Reserve Program has been ridiculed as a waste of taxpayer money that pays farmers to refrain from growing crops.
But it is popular in Minnesota. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of July 31 there were 998,928 acres (nearly a billion!) of farmland in Minnesota enrolled in the program.
The program pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and/or planting species of plants, largely cover crops, that would improve environmental quality. The average rental rate on currently enrolled contracts in Minnesota is $146.21 per acre, the USDA says.
But the number of acres in Minnesota in the CRP program had dipped a bit as commodity prices have recently soared and there’s an incentive to put more acres under the plow and some farmers reached the end of their 15-year commitments.
“There’s still interest (in the program) because there are still marginal lands and other land that are perfect fits for programs like this,” said Minnesota Department of Agriculture spokesman Allen Sommerfeld.
Klobuchar meets Zelenskyy
With the U.S. House and U.S. Senate on August break, many lawmakers, especially those who are not up for re-election and don’t need to campaign, have taken official trips overseas.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for instance, traveled with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to Ukraine where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presented the lawmakers with the Order of Merit, First Class, an honor given to those who support the nation’s efforts to remain a sovereign state have achievements in economics, science, culture, military or politics.
The senators went to Bucha and Irpin, the sites of horrific Russian atrocities earlier this spring. They also visited Hostomel Airport, where the Ukrainian people claimed an early victory against the Russian army.
Klobuchar, a Democrat, had visited Ukraine in January, before Russia invaded Ukraine, and in March she visited with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Klobuchar said “one of the most pressing issues” she discussed with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was the Russian capture of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
“The International Atomic Energy Agency must be allowed to access the plant and Russia should agree to a demilitarized zone around it in order to prevent a catastrophe,” Klobuchar said.
The war in Ukraine, now in its sixth month, has faded from the top of the news. But the fighting over the six-reactor nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, has been a source of rising concern since Russian forces captured it early in the war.
In recent weeks, both Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for damage to transmission lines that served as a failsafe to keep the nuclear reactors cool and prevent a catastrophic meltdown.
On Wednesday, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency were finally given the green light to travel to the plant.
An encounter with Coconut, the calf
Sure, the Minnesota State Fair is lots of fun and entertaining. But when I visited the fair this week I was impressed by the face-to-face campaigning by the state’s political candidates at the event.
Politicians often go door knocking and attend small events where they can meet and listen to potential voters. But modern political campaigns are dominated by television ads and social media solicitations and are carefully scripted to include party talking points, with maximum efforts to stay on message.
The fair is a throwback to an earlier campaigning style. It gives politicians an opportunity to engage with so many more potential voters – as well as those who disagree with their politics – in an up-front and personal way. The handshaking and selfie-taking was intense.
I also met some very interesting Minnesotans at the fair, including Ron Kelsey of Lamberton who has an amazing collection – more than 1,000 of them – of colorful seed bags and displays about 400 of them at the fair.
Seed bags and other types of animal feed bags are a great American commercial art form and Kelsey is devoted to corn seed bags and has an ear of corn tattooed on his forearm. He’s been to the fair every single year since he was 7 years old, except when the pandemic forced a shutdown in 2020. He said his seed bags are so compelling that people have gotten married in front of his display.
There were also the animals, so patient among the throngs of humans that may set records this year for fair-going. I have to admit I immediately fell in love with a beautiful Holstein calf named Coconut.