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The national emergency that wasn't | Sheneman cartoon

The notion that a democratic president might invoke national emergency powers to address a real issue like gun violence or climate change is the kind of thing that wakes Mitch McConnell up screaming in the middle of the night.

The GOP is nothing if not sly. They are also well organized. Over the past 30 years they have systematically loaded the judiciary with conservative jurists, and don't even get me started on the gerrymandering.

The grand old party has the ability to see years into the future, that's why they're so damned scared of the precedent set by the toddler president and his big, dumb national emergency wall

The Republican Party is aware that Trump is massively unpopular, they are aware of the butt whooping they took in the midterms and they are acutely aware of the 2020 election. The chances of retaining power, even with an incumbent president, are fraught.

If Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris or, heaven's forbid, Elizabeth Warren manage to get themselves elected, the notion that they might invoke the presidential national emergency powers to address a real issue like gun violence or climate change is the kind of thing that wakes Mitch McConnell up screaming in the middle of the night. 

There are plenty of Republicans who would be delighted to see the president's attempt to circumvent congress and self-appropriate money for his slats struck down by the courts.

Luckily for them, the constitution, seems to be pretty clear on the matter of the government's purse strings. Congress is charged with making appropriations, imaginary border crisis not withstanding.

Have they packed the lower courts with enough Heritage Foundation acolytes to get the big boy president his wall? Hopefully, it takes a few years to figure that particular question out. 

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The governor is acting shady | Sheneman cartoon

The governor is insisting on enforcing non-disclosure agreements, or gag orders, on the women accusing his campaign of wrongdoing. That's pretty gross.

The scandal around the governor's handling of sexual assault allegations in his campaign continues to grow, mostly because he's letting it. Despite running on promises of transparency in government, the Murphy administration has proven to be incredibly tight lipped when it comes to addressing the incredibly serious accusations made by multiple women who worked for his campaign.

The scandal continues to dog the governor and he's starting to get testy when he's questioned about it. The truth might go a long way toward getting people off his back.

The governor is insisting on enforcing non-disclosure agreements, or gag orders, on the women accusing his campaign of wrongdoing. That's pretty gross. Not only did he not address the allegations when they were made, but his office helped promote the accused and stonewalled any attempts to learn what actually happened.

His justification for this injustice is that if the victims were allowed to speak freely they might spill the recipe to the secret sauce that led him to a resounding victory in the election. Allow me to ruin it for them:

You won because you were a rich guy willing to spend fat cash, and your opponent was a grapefruit taped to a mop. There are no brilliant political insights, no proprietary information that requires the level of security the governor is giving it. Your race was a gimme.

Chris Christie, the least popular governor in the history of governors, is a Republican and you are a Democrat. People voted for you and they still don't know who you are. Give up the charade and let these women speak. 

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Who had the better night in El Paso: Donald Trump or Beto O'Rourke?

The president spent much of his rally poking fun at O'Rourke, claiming he had only drawn a few hundred supporters to Trump's tens of thousands.

President Donald Trump and erstwhile Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke held competing rallies in El Paso, with a potential government shutdown and the unfinished border wall looming in the background. Trump spent much of his rally poking fun at O'Rourke, erroneously claiming he had only drawn a few hundred supporters to Trump's tens of thousands. Yet, as his numbers were proven false -- again -- and his border wall plan was once again rejected, O'Rourke seemed to be more presidential. What do you think?


Throughout the rally, Trump referenced O'Rourke's counter-rally. Per NPR

Trump seemed especially attuned to and plenty sensitive about the split-screen image of the rally O'Rourke, El Paso's former congressman, was holding outside in the heavily Democratic city. Exaggerating, as he's prone to do, about his crowd size, Trump claimed that O'Rourke had only drawn 200 or 300 to his protest while they had 35,000 people trying to get into his.
"That may be the end of his presidential bid," Trump said, mocking O'Rourke as "a young man who's got very little going for himself except a great first name."

However, Trump's claims were quickly proven incorrect. 

El Paso police estimate a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 for the anti-Trump, anti-wall, pro-O'Rourke march and rally tonight.

-- Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) February 12, 2019

Trump's entire camp, including his son, poked fun at O'Rourke throughout the night. 

Beto trying to counter-program @realdonaldtrump in his hometown and only drawing a few hundred people to Trump's 35,000 is a really bad look.

Partial pic of the Trump overflow crowd below! #AnyQuestions

-- Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 12, 2019

Many pundits said comparing Trump's swipes at O'Rourke with the El Paso native's focus on the good of the nation put the former Congressman in a much more positive light. Per Vanity Fair

O'Rourke, meanwhile, came off sounding downright presidential. "With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand, here in one of the safest cities in the United States of America," O'Rourke told a roaring crowd. "Safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Secure because we treat one another with dignity and respect." After months of aimless ennui following his narrow loss to Ted Cruz in the midterms, the rally appeared to energize O'Rourke. "Yeah, I'm back in the mix," he told Politico before going onstage. "All of us right now have a responsibility to do all that we can, and this is me doing my best."

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Cory Booker made it official | Sheneman cartoon

In the party writ large, Booker's progressive bona fides wouldn't be in question.

Shocking exactly no one, earlier this week Cory Booker announced his intention to run for president in 2020. The fact that Booker would run was never in doubt. What is in doubt is where he fits in this current crop of Democratic candidates.

In response to the electoral house cleaning of this past November, the myriad declared candidates for the democratic nomination have a noted progressive bent. There are position papers on medicare for all and green new deals being posted on candidate's websites with a furious regularity.

Bucking the party's usual affinity for centrists, this year's gaggle of hopefuls are now being vetted on whether they are progressive enough. We have Donald Trump and his rank incompetence to thank for that. According to the latest spate of polling, the American people hate racist border walls, tax cuts for rich folks and having their health care taken away from them. That would seem to be a plus for the eventual democratic candidate.

In the party writ large, Booker's progressive bona fides wouldn't be in question. He's long advocated for climate action and programs like baby bonds, but in the current environment his relationships with Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry will be an issue.

Booker will, however, have to answer for his past, and present, cozy relationship with Wall Street. He's raised more campaign money from the financial sector than anyone but Mitch McConnell. In a campaign where a majority of candidates look set to eschew corporate dollars in favor of smaller donations, that's a bad look.

Also at issue is his defense of the pharmaceutical industry and their stranglehold on the U.S. prescription drug market. He did them a big favor a while back by voting against a bill that would allow the import of cheaper prescription drugs from our neighbors. He offered some platitudes about drug safety and such but nobody with an ounce of sense thinks that's why he defected from the party on the bill.

Booker is from New Jersey. The pharmaceutical industry is a major source of campaign money in New Jersey. Booker needs to come up with a better excuse or better yet, stop doing pharma's dirty work for them.

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Chris Christie is finished | Sheneman cartoon

Since most autobiographies are vanity projects by their very nature, you'd think Christie would come off looking better in a book he wrote.

Our beloved former governor is back. Sure, it's not like he ever left, but still...HE"S BACK!

Chris Christie has hit the airwaves to promote the book deal he's been dying to cash in on for so long. The former governor has crafted an exciting tell all about his fleeting time as an insider in the Trump administration. A quick scan of the cover will show you that New Jersey gets fourth billing behind Trump, Jared and Steve Bannon. That seems pretty on brand.

Chris Christie doesn't write very much about his time as governor of New Jersey because he wasn't much of a governor. His book is much like his terms as the state's chief executive, full of petty grudges, national political aspirations and little time for his home state.

It's filled with anecdotes about how he was bested by the dim son of a real estate magnate/felon, how Steve Bannon was mean to him and, of course, that time he bravely confronted a heckler on the boardwalk while flanked by a full state police security detail. 

Most autobiographies are vanity projects by their very nature. You'd think Christie would come off looking better in a book he wrote, but I guess you have to work with the material you're given.

I can't imagine the market for this book. Who is reading this besides hardcore political junkies and Tom Moran? Maybe it's one of those deals where a prominent politician puts out a book and a PAC buys a few thousand copies to hand out at conferences. Either way, congrats to the governor on getting paid.

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Old parking tickets now only a memory | Quigley

I was appalled, and so were many of my Democratic colleagues.


Walk down Memory Lane with me, back to 1997, when New Jersey's Administrative Office of the Courts promised to do something Chief Justice Stuart Rabner did this month.

I was a second-term assemblywoman ready to head out to a community meeting in Kearny when I got a call from my aide saying I'd have to drive because his license was suspended. I picked him up and as we headed along Route 7, he said that when he'd gone to renew his license, the DMV (now the MVC) told him his license had been suspended because of three outstanding parking tickets from 1989.

At first, I thought that was funny, so I mentioned it during my talk. Afterward, three people told me they'd recently been suspended, too, for old parking tickets. That seemed more than a coincidence.

Next day at work I asked around. Seems everybody knew somebody with the same problem. All cases were recent and in no instance did anyone have a decade-old receipt, cashed check or other proof of payment.

Later that week, I talked to my Trenton colleagues and learned they'd almost all received similar constituent complaints.

In some cases, drivers had never even been in towns where parking tickets were received. In other cases, it wasn't their license number or vehicle.

Obviously, something bad was going on.

After a little digging, I learned several large municipalities had engaged the same consulting firm to help them find new ways of raising money. The consultant recommended they check old files for unprocessed parking tickets. And they found plenty. Boxes. Cartons.

Jersey City, Newark, Hackensack, Camden and Atlantic City officials thought they'd found gold mines.

They immediately notified DMV to suspend licenses of all identified motorists, going back 20 years. DMV officials were thrilled, too.

Suspended drivers were required to pay not only original fines, but also additional charges for non-payment along with interest, and then another $50 to have their licenses restored. DMV said close to one million people were affected.

I was appalled, and so were many of my Democratic colleagues. I quickly introduced legislation requiring all municipalities to process parking tickets within three years or lose the opportunity to do so. The bill also required DMV to send certified letters to motorists prior to suspension.

Reluctantly, DMV officials backed the overall concept but balked at the cost of certified mail so there was only weak support from them. When news of the new bill went out, my office was swamped with letters and calls from outraged motorists, and I was invited all over the state to give talks and interviews about the bill.

But it went nowhere.

As a relatively inexperienced legislator when Democrats were in the minority in Trenton, I couldn't generate enough interest from legislative leadership. Most Republicans were from suburban or rural areas and hadn't been affected by the suspension blitz.

There'd been a lot of interest in the media, however, and the Administrative Office of the Courts in Trenton took notice. That office, under the direction of the chief justice, manages all courts in the state.

After some negotiations, they agreed to wipe out all parking tickets older than three years. They could do that with a single click on their computer -- but only if I would withdraw the bill and leave the matter to them.

I did. And they did. But it seems that over the next 22 years, unprocessed tickets and other small issues began piling up again. A week ago, Justice Rabner ordered all old minor offenses wiped off the books. You may never know you were in that pile, but be grateful anyway.

A former assemblywoman from Jersey City, Joan Quigley is the president and CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp.

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Brendan Gill: I didn't hire Al Alvarez either | Moran

How did Alvarez get a $140,000 job if no one hired him? For weeks, Murphy's senior people have all denied it. Can't the governor get an answer?

Brendan Gill wants to be clear about one thing: It wasn't him.

He is not the guy who was behind the decision to hire Al Alvarez to a senior job in the Murphy administration after Katie Brennan accused Alvarez of sexually assaulting her. The rumors, he says, are dead wrong.

"I had no communication with anyone to encourage the hiring of Alvarez," said Gill, who was Murphy's campaign manager, and serves as a freeholder in Essex County. "I was not involved in the transition or hiring practices of the administration."

So, the mystery lives. It is amazing to me that no one in the Murphy administration has stepped up and admitted to this mistake. And it's even more amazing that the governor allows the question to drag on, week after week.

"This is so silly," says Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the co-chair of the committee. "All the governor has to do is tell us."

Maybe he doesn't know. But if that's the case, why hasn't he called all his people into a big conference room and pounded his fist on the table, demanding to know?

Instead, we heard a parade of Murphy's senior people swear oaths before the Legislative committee investigating this case, and claim that it wasn't them, leaving legislators exasperated.

In Trenton, on the sidelines of the committee hearing, Gill is the chief suspect. But when I ask those spreading the rumor to show me Gill's fingerprints, they come up empty.

So, on Monday, I called Gill and asked. He wasn't pleased. He thought I should have some hard evidence before even asking the question. I explained that I spend half my life chasing rumors, and that half of them turn out to be true. It's what we journalists do, or at least part of it.

I was surprised that Gill was so sweeping in his denial. He says he wasn't involved in hiring generally, which might make him the first campaign manager in history to win an election and claim none of the patronage spoils.

Maybe that made him nervous, because he added on one small caveat: He said that if someone had called and asked him about Alvarez, he might have said that Alvarez performed well during the campaign, when he worked to fortify support among Latino voters.

"I don't remember anyone doing that specifically," Gill said. "Someone may have called me. I don't want to say 'no' for sure. I don't remember."

Another slap in the face for Katie Brennan |Moran

I asked Weinberg, who has heard the rumors, too, if the committee intended to call Gill to testify. "Not at the moment," she said.


In the meantime, Alvarez has now been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by two county prosecutors, in Hudson and Middlesex. Maybe that will encourage whoever did hire him to come out of hiding, someday.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find Opinion on Facebook.

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In Trenton, a bold move towards cleaner elections. Seriously. | Moran

After years of delay, a bill to force disclosure of secret donations to dark money funds is on a fast track for approval.

A rare political moment has arrived, as the Legislature moves to demand that secret donors who bankroll elections in New Jersey step forward from the shadows and identify themselves. A strong bill to require full disclosure recently won unanimous approval from a Senate committee, and Gov. Phil Murphy says he fully supports it.

The finish line is in sight. The question now is whether the Assembly will get on board, and at this stage, Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, is the last big player to join the fight. The companion bill in the Assembly, which has languished for two years, hasn't moved an inch yet.

The bill does nothing to limit giant donations from monied special interest groups, like public worker unions and real estate developers. The courts have blocked those efforts on free speech grounds, most infamously with the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.

But there is no legal barrier to forcing disclosure. The only barrier is political. Donors who want to preserve their outsized influence have conspired with venal politicians in both parties to block reform.

Leaving this dark money option in place renders other election laws meaningless. It allows special interest group to sidestep limits on donations. It allows lawyers and engineers who have contracts with state and local governments to evade pay-to-play restrictions. And it keeps the rest of us in dark, unable to see who is pulling the strings in the back rooms where deals are struck.

Murphy has been a big phony on this, posing as a reformer while taking full advantage of the secrecy. His senior advisors started a dark money fund soon after he was elected, and Murphy himself solicited money for it and appeared in TV ads the group produced. The group, led by Brendan Gill, promised to reveal its donors at the end of 2018, and then broke that promise. Murphy says he wants them to release the names, but it's a kabuki dance. He has kept all the advisors who run the fund close.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is equally tainted. He received a secret donation of $55,000 from PSEG a few months after he pushed through a shameless bill to grant PSEG up to $300 million a year in subsidies for its nuclear plant. It was discovered only became PSEG sent the check to the wrong fund, one that requires disclosure. Consider that the Sweeney Surcharge on your electric bill.

Both men are atoning for these sins by supporting the bill. Here's hoping that Coughlin joins them soon.

More: Tom Moran columns 

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Another slap in the face for Katie Brennan | Moran

Prosecutors in Middlesex failed to interview key witnesses, and asked Brennan only one question: How much did she drink on the night in question?

I was one of the naive fools who felt relieved when Attorney General Gurbir Grewal moved the rape case against Al Alvarez to Middlesex County for a second look in October, after Hudson County decided against pressing charges.

A fresh look made great sense, given revelations that the Hudson County Prosecutor, Esther Suarez, had profound conflicts of interest in the case. She had known Alvarez since 2003. And during the investigation, she was on the short list to be Gov. Phil Murphy's next attorney general, while Alvarez was a senior advisor to the governor's campaign.

But I was dead wrong to feel relieved. Because Middlesex prosecutors did not conduct a fresh investigation into Katie Brennan's charge of rape after all. They didn't start from scratch. They relied heavily on the investigative work done in Hudson instead.

What sense does that make? If the conflicts in Hudson raised doubts about the integrity of the investigation, why would Middlesex rely on their work? How could that possibly reassure Brennan, or the public, that she was getting a fair shake?

Investigators in Middlesex did not bother to talk to Brennan's husband, who she called immediately after Alvarez left her apartment. They did not talk to her close friend, who rushed over to hold her hand while her husband flew back from a business trip abroad. How could they assess Brennan's credibility without taking those basic steps?

And while they did invite Brennan in to tell her story, they asked only one question, according to her lawyer, Alan Zegas, who was present.

"They asked her how much she had been drinking," he said. "And they took few, if any, notes."

I don't know what happened that night, and the truth is no one but Alvarez and Brennan know for sure. He says it was consensual, she says it wasn't, and there is apparently no forensic evidence to break that tie.

And so far, no one has presented evidence showing that Suarez meddled in the investigation. Grewal exonerated her, and the chief assistant supervising rape cases, John Mulkeen, says he made the decision against filing charges on his own.

But neither Mulkeen nor Grewal would comment when asked if Suarez knew about the investigation. That's curious. Grewal's exoneration letter skips around that question, and Mulkeen refused to discuss it, even though he freely discussed the points that reflected well on his boss.

Suarez says she knew nothing of the investigation, but many people find that hard to believe, including members of the Legislature's investigative committee. They have asked for e-mails from three specific dates in April and May of 2017, just as the investigation began. Suarez has refused to hand them over. Several sources said those e-mails discussed evidence in the case and were sent to Suarez. A subpoena is likely, so we'll probably find out more.

In the meantime, Suarez seems to be preparing an ignorance defense: "My role is not to read documents and files all day long," she said when asked about the e-mails by Craig McCarthy of NJ Advance Media. "I have to trust that other people are doing what they need to do."

Think about Brennan, having to wonder whether Suarez knew, whether Hudson's investigation was tainted, and why Middlesex wouldn't talk to her husband and best friend to help assess her credibility. Imagine what it felt like to her when she read a press release from Middlesex saying they found "no credible evidence" of rape.

This is exactly why ethics laws talk about avoiding the "appearance" of a conflict. The appearance itself raises doubts that no victim should have to endure.

If Grewal's purpose was to remove suspicions, then he should have insisted that Middlesex conduct a fresh investigation of its own, from the top. He left that up to Middlesex prosecutors, and he won't explain why. Middlesex won't discuss the case either.

Grewal is a star in the Murphy administration, for good reason. But he's blowing this assignment. The Legislature needs to ask him if he knew about the e-mails that were reportedly sent to Suarez, and if so, why he exonerated her.

While they're at it, they could ask him why Middlesex ignored the protocols on rape investigations he issued just a few months ago. "It is vital that prosecutors explain to victims - in a respectful and compassionate way - that sometimes criminal charges are simply not viable, and that a prosecutor can decline to charge a sexual assault case for a variety of reasons unrelated to the victim's credibility," the directive says.

Middlesex sent an e-mail to Brennan's attorney, and issued a press release saying they found no credible evidence of rape, a message that suggests they believe Brennan was lying, even without doing the legwork needed to assess her credibility. Respectful and compassionate? Not so much.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

I can't second guess the final decision of prosecutors in Hudson or in Middlesex. Rape charges are notoriously difficult to prove, and discussing the evidence in public would be monstrously unfair to Alvarez, who deserves the presumption of innocence.

But we can conclude this: New Jersey's criminal justice system mistreated Brennan from start to finish, just as Murphy's senior aides mistreated her. That's bound to discourage women who are raped from coming forward. And that's a tragedy.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find Opinion on Facebook.

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The state of the union is bleak | Sheneman cartoon

Maybe the president do his stump speech in Moscow.

I bet the president really misses Paul Ryan.

It might be the first time anyone has longed for the presence of former House Speaker Ryan. We're in the early goings of the Democrats reign over the House of Representatives and already the president is experiencing the side effects of accountability.

In return for his alt-right performative government shutdown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told President Trump to stay home next Tuesday instead of delivering the State of the Union.

Citing the absurdity of holding a government-funded stump speech while 800,000 federal employees are either sitting at home wondering how to pay their mortgage, Nancy Pelosi decided the House chamber would be better left vacant than turned into a Trump rally. 

You get the idea that aides had to explain what a co-equal branch of government is when they told the president he couldn't give his speech.

He apparently threatened to show up anyway and I don't know, give the speech in the hallway? Mick Mulvaney doesn't have the keys to the House Chamber so his options were limited.

Just yesterday Trump conceded the point to Speaker Pelosi and agreed -- as if he had a choice -- to postpone the State of the Union until the government reopens, whenever the hell that is. 

After two years of doing and saying whatever he wanted while Ryan and the House Republicans abdicated their oversight duties, this is at least a small taste of accountability for the president. 

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