A SCOTUS Whodunnit | Crooked Media
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January 19, 2023
What A Day
A SCOTUS Whodunnit

In This Episode

  • As expected, the U.S. government ran up against its legal debt limit of $31.381 trillion on Thursday. In response, the Treasury Department sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating that it has started taking “extraordinary measures” to avoid the government defaulting on its financial obligations.
  • The Supreme Court announced that it has been unable to identify who leaked the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last May. Leah Litman, co-host of Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny, tells us more about the investigation and its findings.
  • And in headlines: New York lawmakers rejected Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s nominee to lead the state’s highest court, 1 million people in France protested plans to raise the retirement age, and Lunar New Year will be a California state holiday this year for the first time ever.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, January 20th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. And this is What A Day where every time we hear the word recession, we are just going to pretend that they are talking about HBO’s Succession. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yes. I personally can’t wait to see what Tom’s up to in the next season of Recession. 


Priyanka Aribindi: See toxic positivity at its finest. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We love to see it. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the movie set shooting that left a cinematographer dead. Plus, Amazon kicked off the largest round of job cuts in the company’s history, all with an email. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Of course they did. But first, a quick update on the debt ceiling. If you remember on Wednesday’s show, we mentioned that the government was going to hit its borrowing cap soon. Well, yesterday it actually happened. The government ran up against its legal debt limit of $31.381 trillion dollars, which is a whole lot of money. Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 


Tre’vell Anderson: In response, the Treasury Department sent a letter to congressional leaders stating that it has started taking, quote, “extraordinary measures” to avoid the government defaulting on its financial obligations. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the letter, quote, “I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so we were talking about this earlier this week, as you mentioned. So can you walk us through what those extraordinary measures look like and what that means? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So the Treasury Department is basically doing some accounting finagling to free up funds. That includes stopping contributions and investment redemptions for government workers, retirement, and health care funds. Now, the idea is that these funds will be made whole and restored once the debt limit is increased. But in the meantime, the shift will give the government enough financial space to handle its day to day expenses. At least until about June. That means Congress has five months or so to get their shit together and either pass legislation to raise or suspend the debt limit. So no need to panic quite yet, especially as we know that our elected officials seem to love waiting until the last minute to act. 


Priyanka Aribindi: They really do. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But of course, there is some concern on the horizon as both sides of the aisle are standing firm in their positions. Right. You have Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans in the House especially, who want any increase in the borrowing limit to come with spending cuts. And then you have Biden and the Democrats who feel like it is Congress’s non-negotiable responsibility to raise the debt limit and prevent an economic crisis. So they’re not interested in negotiating on anything either. Only time will tell how this all shakes out. And we obviously will keep you all posted on what I’m predicting will be the stunts and shows to come. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I think that is a very fair prediction to make. In other news, yesterday, the Supreme Court announced the results of their internal investigation into who leaked the unpublished draft opinion that overturned Roe v Wade. Spoiler alert they still do not know who did it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Ugh. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The leak of the draft, if you remember, was published in Politico last May ahead of the court’s official decision that came down at the end of June. And it was a major breach of the court’s security and their protocols, not to mention the draft and the opinion itself were major reversals of bodily autonomy rights that many Americans have considered fundamental since Roe codified them back in 1973. To learn a little bit more about this investigation and its findings, or really lack thereof, I spoke with legal expert Leah Litman, who co-hosts Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny podcast. I started out by asking Leah how the investigation was conducted. 


Leah Litman: From how the court described the group of people that they interviewed. I think it’s pretty clear they didn’t interview the justices themselves and they definitely didn’t interview the justices spouses. So the report says they called everyone into a room and said, did you do it? And then they asked them to swear that they didn’t with a notary public in the room with them. Now, that’s, you know, part of the investigation. The court also looked at core e-mails. They asked employees to turn over their phones and laptops. The phones and laptops didn’t show anything. They basically concluded from their investigation of, like the court’s information technology that they couldn’t tell one way or another what happened. Um. But they also looked at social media, but that’s kind of what they did. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Ah. Okay. So, you know, they did, I guess, their best. 


Leah Litman: I think they did their worst. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Pretty much like the very bare minimum. But, you know, this report ruled out the possibility of a hack. So that pretty much leaves us to conclude that it was an inside job. Someone in there leaked this. But investigators, they hit multiple walls trying to figure out who exactly did that, despite knowing everybody who had access to the opinion, like you said, and who they sent it to internally. But there are still some gaps, you know, especially in I.T., as you mentioned, when that information that they were able to gather. So can you tell us more about what they weren’t able to find? 


Leah Litman: Sure. So one thing is the report says they actually can’t rule out that this was an unintentional disclosure. That is, they can’t rule out the possibility that this draft was just left in a public place. You know, if someone took it home to review, accidentally left it on the train. Now, from the opening statement, it seems like they think it was intentional. But, you know, if you actually read into the report, they’re like, well, we actually can’t rule out that this was an accident. But you know, what they couldn’t do on I.T. level is they can only verify, you know, what people were doing on emails or printers that are actually on the Supreme Court’s information technology network. But several of the justices have printers in their offices or chambers that actually aren’t hooked up to the Supreme Court network. And so they can’t tell who printed the opinion at all or when on those printers. And so there are gaps like that in the court’s I.T. protocols. They also can’t tell if anyone put, say, a jump drive, you know, onto a computer and saved the opinion there. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Cool. So they did an investigation, but there’s a lot that they definitely do not know. Um. And as you’ve been mentioning, you know, I want to talk about these justices because they weren’t questioned. You mentioned their spouses weren’t questioned. What do you kind of make of that? Is that something that these investigators should have looked more into? 


Leah Litman: So it certainly seems like if their investigation hit a wall with court employees and they think it was leaked by someone internal to the court, then it might make sense to consider everybody, you know, who had access to that draft. And one of the more interesting details is in the interviews with court employees, it came out that court employees were sharing information with their spouses. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Leah Litman: And partners about the vote break down in the cases. And so if that was happening, then it seems like another possibly relevant group are the partners or spouses of the justices. And that’s just not anywhere on the reports radar. 


Priyanka Aribindi: All of this being said, all of this information now out. What do you think was the most likely scenario here when this draft ended up with Politico? How do you think that happened? 


Leah Litman: I think it was always the case that we were unlikely to find out who actually did the leaking. Right. Like, it’s just a little bit hard to determine these things, particularly if your idea of an investigation is having the court marshal call a bunch of people into the room and ask them like, did you do it? And then you don’t ask a bunch of the people with access to the opinions whether they did it. I mean, one of the like interesting things about this report is the opening paragraph of the report says this was no mere act of, you know, resistance. This was a political threat. And it seems to imply that they think it came from critics of the majority opinion overruling Roe versus Wade, despite having seemingly like, not enough evidence to actually determine who did it. It’s just super odd. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Leah Litman, co-host of Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny podcast. You can find a link to the Supreme Court Marshal’s report in our shownotes. And we’ll be sure to bring you an update when or if we ever find out who was behind the leak. [music break] [AD BREAK]


Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Actor Alec Baldwin and an on set weapon specialist will be charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust. The district attorney for Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the incident took place, announced the charges yesterday. Under New Mexico law, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 18 months in prison. But a special provision in the charges could extend that to five years because a gun was involved. The DA’s office said that it will officially file charges by the end of the month. A judge will then decide whether there’s probable cause for a trial. 


Priyanka Aribindi: This week, New York lawmakers rejected Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s nominee for the state’s top judge, in a stunning rebuke from her own party. Justice Hector LaSalle would have been the first Latino to serve in the role if confirmed. But progressives have strongly opposed his nomination ever since it was announced in December. Labor unions, reproductive rights groups, and criminal justice advocates were quick to point out cases where LaSalle ruled against workers rights, against abortion rights, and against the right to due process. And many saw LaSalle as too conservative to serve on the blue states High Court. The committee voted 10 to 9, marking the first time that state lawmakers have ever rejected a governor’s choice for the chief judge. And all of the no votes were from Democrats, signaling that the party is split on how to approach the state’s judicial system. Hochul could still force a floor vote on LaSalle’s nomination in the state Senate to revive his chances of getting confirmed, but she hasn’t indicated whether or not she will do so. 


Tre’vell Anderson: On Wednesday, Amazon executives informed employees via email that they would no longer be employed by the giant company. You know what? This one probably could have been a meeting. This round of layoffs will be just one of many as Amazon, the second largest employer in the U.S., makes good on its New Year’s promise to eliminate 18,000 positions in preparation for an extended economic downturn. Like other tech companies, Amazon claims they over hired to meet pandemic demand and will course correct by cutting jobs to keep costs low. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I feel like we are just minutes away from people getting informed of their layoff, from uh texts, from a visit from a m3gan doll. Like what is happening next? 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] No nothing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Our apologies to the Starbucks baristas, as we clearly cannot keep up with their grind. While unionizing has become America’s hottest workplace trend. It turns out that overall union membership fell to a historic low last year. That is according to new figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday. The data shows that just over 10% of American workers are dues paying members of a collective bargaining unit. Even though more than a quarter of a million workers joined a union in 2022 alone, some experts and labor advocates say that that’s likely due to the fact that many laws that are intended to punish companies for engaging in union busting practices aren’t actually enforced. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, maybe we should be enforcing them. I don’t know. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. Just a thought. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Just a thought. You know, 1 million people in France took to the streets yesterday to protest the government’s plan to raise the retirement age and stand with workers nationwide who are striking over the controversial policy. President Emmanuel Macron has faced intense backlash ever since he unveiled his plan to raise the retirement age for most workers from 62 to 64 last week, which would require citizens to work two more years to qualify for a full state pension. I’m sorry, state pension? I’m trying to, you know, give a little je ne sais quoi to it if you [laughter] if you, if you will. Now, I’ve never heard of that personally, because we don’t do that here in the States, right?


Priyanka Aribindi: No. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But yesterday’s demonstration was organized by the eight biggest labor unions in the country and the massive work stoppage disrupted train services, flights and schools in several cities, including Paris. More strikes and protests are expected in the coming days. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m liking what I’m hearing here, you know, strong unions, retire at age 62. Chocolate croissants every day. I’m rethinking– 


Tre’vell Anderson: State pension. You know.


Priyanka Aribindi: –Rethinking a lot of my choices right now. [laughter] As Daffy Duck once said, it’s rabbit season. This weekend, the moon will enter a new phase, ushering in the year of the rabbit. Or for folks of Vietnamese heritage, the Year of the Cat, the Lunar New Year, which is one of the most important holidays in many Asian nations, will be acknowledged this year as a California state holiday for the first time ever, thanks to a bill signed last year by Governor Gavin Newsom. And it’s about time seeing as Asian-Americans make up 17% of California’s diverse population and 30% of Asian-Americans living in the U.S. reside in the coastal state. Lunar New Year traditions vary across cultures, but eating and celebrating with loved ones to bring luck and prosperity for the new Year is ultimately the reason for the season. It is your year rabbits. Lets hop to it. Unless, of course, you’re identifying with the year of the cat, then I don’t know, what do the cats do? 


Tre’vell Anderson: They purr.


Priyanka Aribindi: They purr, they perch.


Tre’vell Anderson: They purr, they perch, they scratch you and all those other stuff. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Aw. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines, we’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Priyanka Aribindi: It is Friday WAD squad. And for today’s temp check we are talking cinematic arts. Yesterday marked the first day of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the country. And lucky for us, our very own Tre’vell Anderson is, as they say, in the industry, on location. So Tre’vell literal temp check. How cold is it over there right now? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, I stepped off the plane and it was 24 degrees–


Priyanka Aribindi: Geez. 


Tre’vell Anderson: To be exact. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Mm mm. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Uh. That is the average high for this next week I will be here. The low in case you were wondering, is the low teens. I saw 12 and 11, which I’ve never seen on a thermometer before. That’s what we’re dealing with. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. I mean, I know what I need to know, but we have a whole rest of the section to do. So tell us a little more about Sundance and what you are looking forward to seeing while you’re there. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. So this is one of the premier places to showcase a film for industry folk and other cinephiles. Right. And many of the movies that world premiere here end up being on the tips of everybody’s tongue come award season. Perhaps the best and most recent example is the Apple movie Coda, which won Sundance’s top prize in 2021 when the fest was virtual, and then it went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Now, this year is the first year the fest is back in person after the height of Miss Rona wreaking havoc on our lives. And there are three docs in particular that I want to highlight for everyone listening today. First up is a documentary called 20 Days in Mariupol. It’s the story of a trio of Ukrainian journalists as they document Russia’s invasion and much of the actual footage we’ve seen of the death and destruction of the war in those early days that you’ve seen in like media reports, actually was theirs. Right. And so they’ve compiled all of their footage into this documentary that they say shows kind of the truth of what Russia has really done over the last year. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. I mean, I imagine that is going to be a very harrowing watch, but also a very important one. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. The next film I want to highlight is this documentary called Kokomo City that follows four Black trans sex workers in New York and Georgia. And they basically share their reflections on what often feels like a dichotomy between the Black community and themselves as trans women. It’s from first time director D. Smith, who is also a two time Grammy nominated producer, singer and songwriter. This is one of the films that I actually had the chance to screen in advance. But because formal reviews are still embargoed as we record this until its premiere, I’ll just say that it’s instantly canonical and I’ll leave it at that. Y’all will just have to trust me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. You have access to this stuff. I’m trusting you. I don’t know anyone else who’s seeing this stuff.


Tre’vell Anderson: And then lastly a film that was literally just added to the festival yesterday is a documentary called Justice. It’s from director Doug Liman. He did. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity movies. It’s all about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. I’m sure you’ll remember that when he was going through the confirmation process, four women, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, accused him of sexual assault. Well the director of this documentary says that his film, quote, “picks up where the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh fell woefully short” with never before seen evidence and key interviews with those closely involved in the allegations. I think this might be one that you might see headlines pop up. They’re doing one screening. Okay. This weekend, I think is going to be interesting because this is literally a Supreme Court justice. And we all remember the energy, the angst, the anger. Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was around um Dr. Ford’s testimony. And so– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Stay tuned for what’s going to come out of this. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I can’t imagine it’s going to be anything good. But– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Again, I will keep an eye out for those news alerts because I can imagine that might certainly make some headlines, uh though I do think that is quite a departure for this director to go for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And The Bourne Identity [laughter] to making this Brett Kavanaugh doc. Love the range but also like– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What has gone wrong to take you from that fantasy world to our terrible one. Unsure. [laughing] And just like that we have checked our temps. They are, you know, blisteringly hot, uh but also very, quite literally freezing in Park City. So, you are in Park City, right? 


Tre’vell Anderson: I am. It is very cold, honey. [laughter] 




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, eat the longest New Year noodle you can find and tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just about the buzziest indie films like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And Goodbye Year of the Tiger. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You will be missed. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Will you? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Very cool animal for maybe not such a cool year actually. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I would say, you know, ’22 was a little, a little rocky. [laughter]


Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producers are Lita Martinez, Michael Martinez, and Sandy Girard. Production support comes from Leo Duran, Ari Schwartz, and Matt DeGroot with additional promotional and social support from Ewa Okulate, Julia Beach, and Jordan Silver. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.