Blast from the past
April 16, 2019

Standard Oil was apparently something you were supposed to remember from high school.

That's because until Tuesday, the company was still the subject of a Justice Department decree forcing it to split into dozens of smaller chunks. A decree that came out of former President Theodore Roosevelt's lawsuit against Standard Oil, which his government won 108 years ago, and which your U.S. History class probably implied was the end of the story.

Yet as The Wall Street Journal reports, that's not quite true. On Tuesday, the government asked a St. Louis federal court to end the 1911 decree, officially declaring it was finished breaking up Standard Oil. After all, beyond the fact that the decree gave Standard Oil six months to divide itself up, there are plenty of other reasons why it was beyond obsolete.

After winning what historian Daniel Yergin calls "the most famous antitrust case" in U.S. history, the government only tried enforcing its resulting decree once, the Journal notes. Standard Oil still split up into 34 smaller companies over the years, including today's behemoths Exxon and Chevron. But since the decree only applied to Standard and not the entire industry, the Justice Department recently moved to end it and let newer, broader laws run their course.

The Standard Oil revision is all part of a larger DOJ review looking at antitrust cases from the 1800s and beyond, meaning you may see the end of a few more textbook relics in the coming months. Read more about this historic throwback at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 21, 2019

The office of Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tenn.) confirmed on Thursday that a photo of Lee wearing a Confederate uniform appeared in Auburn University's 1980 yearbook.

Earlier in the week, Lee's office told The Tennessean they had no knowledge of any photos showing Lee in a Confederate uniform. Lee attended Auburn from 1977 to 1981, and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. Every year, the fraternity would hold "Old South" parties, where members wore Confederate uniforms, The Tennessean reports. At the time, a large Confederate flag was on display outside of the Kappa Alpha house, and they also held an annual celebration of Robert E. Lee's birthday. The photo of Lee is in the Kappa Alpha section of the yearbook.

In an earlier statement, Lee said he "never intentionally acted in an insensitive way, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that participating in that was insensitive and I've come to regret it." Catherine Garcia

September 26, 2018

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh says he "never sexually assaulted anyone," and says he's got calendars to prove it.

Two women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years. Late Tuesday, Kavanaugh sent the Senate Judiciary Committee pages from his 1982 calendar, saying that he'd use them to testify Thursday that he wasn't at the high school party where Christine Blasey Ford alleges he forcibly groped her, reports USA Today.

Kavanaugh has for some reason kept the ancient artifact in his possession since his senior year of high school, and now he hopes it will come in handy. The calendar includes vestiges of suburban teenage life, with entries like "go to Timmy's" and "grounded." The pages also show that Kavanaugh appreciated fine films such as Rocky III and Grease II, which he saw in the same week in June.

More importantly, Kavanaugh listed parties he attended, even noting at least some of the attendees. Kavanaugh will use the agenda to show that there's no evidence he ever attended the party described by Ford. "He could have attended a party that he did not list," Kavanaugh's team acknowledged.

Check out the calendar pages below, via USA Today, if you've always wondered on which day in 1982 Kavanaugh mowed the lawn. Summer Meza

June 4, 2018

People ask Patti Davis what her father, former President Ronald Reagan, "would say if he were here now," she wrote in an op-ed The Washington Post published Sunday night. "He'd be pretty horrified at where we've come to." While Davis did not mention President Trump by name, she suggested Reagan "would be appalled and heartbroken at a Congress that refuses to stand up to a president who not only seems ignorant of the Constitution but who also attempts at every turn to dismantle and mock our system of checks and balances."

Reagan, a GOP icon, recognized the "difference between immigration laws and cruelty," Davis said. "He believed in laws; he hated cruelty." She didn't mention trade, but Reagan's Nov. 26, 1988, radio address sounds eerily like a posthumous response to Trump's policies, most recently his unilateral tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU. Reagan lamented that "the trade deficit has led some misguided politicians to call for protectionism." In free trade, "there are no losers, only winners," he said, continuing:

Today protectionism is being used by some American politicians as a cheap form of nationalism. ... We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends, weakening our economy, our national security, and the entire free world, all while cynically waving the American flag. The expansion of the international economy is not a foreign invasion, it is an American triumph. [Ronald Regan, 1988]

Political parties evolve, and Trump publicly disagreed with Reagan about trade and foreign policy in the 1980s, too. Reagan likely had incoming House Speaker Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) in mind with his 1988 rebuke, but as today's GOP Congress is doing nothing to stop Trump's self-declared "Trade War," it's hard to see much Reagan in today's Republicans. Maybe the Reagan GOP is "taking a nap somewhere," as former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested last week. Or perhaps, as Peter Wehner argued, it is dead. Peter Weber

July 24, 2017

Anthony Scaramucci, a former Wall Street hedge fund manager, continued his public debut as President Trump's White House communications director on Sunday's political talk shows. Along with threatening to fire his entire staff over leaks, saying Trump won't need to pardon himself, and contradicting White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders over Trump's stand on Russia sanctions ("My bad," he told The New York Times), Scaramucci apologized to Trump on-air for the less-than-flattering things he said about him as late as August 2015.

Before he had jumped on the Trump train — and started driving people to the dictionary to look up an Italian commedia dell'arte character featured in a famous Queen song — Scaramucci was also a donor to former President Barack Obama, giving his campaign $2,300 in May 2008, shortly before the big financial collapse. Scaramucci obviously changed his mind about Obama at some point, and it may have been around the time of this 2010 CNBC town hall meeting, where he asked Obama — whom he identified as a classmate at Harvard Law — about his administration's actions regarding Wall Street.

Things started out on a jocular note, and then Scaramucci got to the point. "The question I have, sir, and this is really — you know, a lot of my friends are thinking about," he said. "Listen, I represent the Wall Street community, we have felt like a piñata. Maybe you don't feel like you're whacking us with a stick, but we certainly feel like we've been whacked with a stick." Obama began with with some conciliatory talk about the importance of Wall Street, but he started hitting back after a minute or so. "I have been amused over the last couple of years, this sense of somehow me beating up on Wall Street," he said. "I think most people on Main Street feel they got beat up on." And Obama was just getting started. You can watch the entire exchange below. Peter Weber

July 18, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that he intends to issue "a new directive on asset forfeiture," a controversial practice that allows law enforcement agents to seize and keep cash and property from people suspected but not charged with a crime, typically drug trafficking. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, after several egregious cases of apparent abuse, but Sessions said he intends to increase asset forfeiture by federal officials and help local law enforcement step around growing state restrictions.

"With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures," Sessions told the National District Attorney's Association at a conference in Minneapolis, according to his prepared remarks. "No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners."

The idea that criminals shouldn't get to keep the fruits of their crimes is pretty uncontroversial, notes Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post. But in most states, law enforcement agencies have wide latitude to seize assets from people charged with no crime, for sometimes suspect reasons, and they often get to keep the cash they seize. The "adoptive forfeitures" practice Sessions specifically backed on Monday, curtailed by his predecessor Eric Holder, allows authorities in states that limit asset forfeiture to use the more permissive federal rules then share the proceeds with federal agencies.

"Thirteen states now allow forfeiture only in cases where there's been a criminal conviction," Robert Everett Johnson at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, tells The Washington Post. "This is a federalism issue. ... The Department of Justice is saying 'we're going to help state and local law enforcement to get around those reforms.'" Asset forfeiture is lucrative for local, state, and federal agencies — in 2014 federal officers seized more property from Americans than burglars did, for example, and the DEA has taken more than $3 billion in cash from people never charged with a crime since 2007, according to the Justice Department Inspector General. States have seized many millions more.

For a primer on the practice and the controversy of civil asset forfeiture, you can watch John Oliver's mildly NSFW, slightly less-than-objective 2014 report below. Peter Weber

June 6, 2017

President Trump has nominated Steven Bradbury, an attorney who along with John Yoo and Jay Bybee crafted "torture memos" for the George W. Bush administration, to the role of general counsel of transportation.

Bradbury's arguments supporting "enhanced interrogation" authorized torture techniques including "dietary manipulation, facial slap or insult slap, cramped confinement, water dousing, and waterboarding," Politico reports. The Trump White House statement announcing his nomination described his work for Bush as advising "the executive branch on a wide range of constitutional and statutory questions."

The general counsel of transportation provides legal counsel to the secretary of the Department of Transportation — currently Elaine Chao, another Bush alum — and spearheads the department's legislative agenda, leading a legal staff of 90. In this role Bradbury is unlikely to weigh in on torture-related topics. Bonnie Kristian

February 16, 2017

The FBI on Wednesday released 389 pages from the bureau's 1970s investigation into alleged racial discrimination in residential properties owned by Trump Management Company, which was run by President Trump's late father, real estate developer Fred Trump. The president was in his late 20s when the probe took place and was serving as president of the company of which his father was the chairman.

The file released this week includes redacted interviews with dozens of Trump employees and tenants, as well as notes from law enforcement involved in the case. Many interviewees report never observing racial bias in the organization's rental practices, though at least one former Trump employee said otherwise.

"I asked Fred Trump what his policy was regarding minorities and he said it was absolutely against the law to discriminate," he said, but later "Fred Trump told me not to rent to blacks" and to offer move-out bonuses to current black renters. He also described being directed to reject a financially-qualified black couple solely because of race, as well as a "code on the top of the front page of the [Trump rental] application to distinguish blacks from whites."

In 1973, the Justice Department brought suit against the Trump company for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Trumps counter-sued, arguing that they only avoided renting to welfare recipients of any race. In 1975, the government and the Trumps reached a settlement in which the Trumps admitted no wrongdoing but were explicitly prohibited from "discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling" and required to run ads welcoming minorities to their properties. Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads