Politics

Judge rules Trump can ignore Special Master’s order to prove claim FBI ‘planted’ docs

October 3, 2022

U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida Aileen Cannon—who was nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump in April 2020—ruled on Thursday, September 29, that Trump does not have to comply with an order by the Special Master to put up or shut up about his claims that the FBI “planted” information among documents that agents seized from Mar-a-Lago, reports HuffPost.

Special Master Raymond Dearie—a federal judge who was recommended by Trump’s own legal team—had given the former president’s lawyers until Friday to confirm or refute an inventory list of items taken by the FBI agents that was provided by the Justice Department.

Dearie’s order, in essence, demanded proof of Trump’s claims that some White House files agents confiscated at Mar-a-Lago had been “planted.” It was a claim pointedly not ever made by his attorneys.

“This submission shall be Plaintiff’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” Dearie, a former federal prosecutor and a U.S. district judge in Brooklyn, New York, said when he issued the order.

Trump said that he and family members watched agents search sections of his Mar-a-Lago home and resort on surveillance cameras—raising the question of how the FBI could have secretly planted evidence at the same time.

Two lawyers for Trump were also at Mar-a-Lago during the search, and one signed off on a list of boxes and “miscellaneous top secret documents” that were removed.

In a letter written on Sunday, September 25, and made public late Wednesday, Trump’s team attempted to duck Dearie’s demand.

“Because the Special Master’s case management plan exceeds the grant of authority from the District Court on this issue, plaintiff must object,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

Cannon agreed in her order Thursday, saying Trump’s attorneys would not be required to affirm the accuracy of the FBI’s inventory from Mar-a-Lago before getting a chance to review the records themselves.

“There shall be no separate requirement on Plaintiff at this stage, prior to the review of any of the seized materials. … The Court’s Appointment Order did not contemplate that obligation,” Cannon wrote.

Her order also extended the timeline to review the documents Trump took from the White House to stash at Mar-a-Lago from November 30 until December 16. The records, which belong to the public, are supposed to be held by the National Archives.

Dearie is supposed to be reviewing the several boxes of documents to determine if any may be protected by lawyer-client or executive privilege.

While Dearie appeared to be speeding up the process, Cannon is slowing it down— which will delay revealing any damning information until after the midterm elections.

In a blow to Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled last week that the Justice Department can resume reviewing the seized classified records—blocking a portion of a stay issued earlier by Cannon. The appeals court also prohibited Dearie from vetting the documents marked classified.

After the ruling, Cannon—whose decision in Trump’s favor protecting the records seized at Mar-a-Lago has been criticized by several legal expert— amended her own order. It now states that material subject to a special master review no longer includes the “approximately one-hundred documents bearing classification markings.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Trump resists request to declare accuracy of Mar-a-Lago document inventory

September 30, 2022

On September 25, former President Donald Trump’s legal team formally resisted a request to declare whether an updated inventory released by the FBI of items taken during its search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8 is accurate, reports The Hill.

In a letter written last Sundaybut made public on Wednesday night, September 28—Trump’s team sidestepped the request from Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master appointed in the case, at the former president’s request.

“Because the special master’s case management plan exceeds the grant of authority from the District Court on this issue, plaintiff must object,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

The refusal to meet the court’s request comes as Dearie continues to push Trump’s team to back in court many of the claims the former president has made on television and on his social media platform that the FBI “planted” evidence at Mar-a-Lago and that he declassified the documents found there—a rationale that matters little for the crimes the Justice Department is contemplating.

The FBI posted an updated inventory on Monday night, September 26, that contained slightly different figures about the number of documents in each box, but was largely the same as the inventory first released earlier this month.

The Justice Department referenced Trump’s letter in its own filing before it was made public, saying all of the objections were “without merit.”

“The Special Master needs to know that he is reviewing all of the materials seized from Mara-a-Lago on August 8, 2022—and no additional material —before he categorizes the seized documents and adjudicates privilege claims,” the Justice Department wrote.

The Trump team’s Sunday letter also seeks to avoid instructions from Dearie to detail what type of privilege they believe a document qualifies for. Dearie asked the team to file the documents into six different categories, while the order initially approved by federal District Judge Aileen Cannon asks for just four—only asking for presidential records to be deemed privileged or not privileged.

“The amended case management plan goes beyond that grant of authority,” Trump’s legal team wrote.

The Justice Department pushed back, saying Trump needs to fully participate in the process he requested.

“Plaintiff brought this civil, equitable proceeding. He bears the burden of proof. If he wants the Special Master to make recommendations as to whether he is entitled to the relief he seeks, plaintiff will need to participate in the process,” the government wrote.

The fighting over the inventory and how to categorize the documents comes before Trump’s team has been able to see them. The parties have yet to secure a vendor to scan the documents so that all parties can digitally review them.

The government insinuated that vendors did not want to work with Trump, writing that none of the five companies they reached out to were “willing to be engaged by plaintiff.”

Trump’s team said the issue was the sheer volume of documents. In the Wednesday night letter, they say the nearly 11,000 documents taken during the search include some 200,000 pages.

Research contact: @thehill

McConnell signals support for Electoral Count Act changes

September 29, 2022

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has offered qualified support for a Senate bill that would overhaul a 19th-century law that governs the way Congress counts and ratifies presidential elector votes, giving the bipartisan effort a boost, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The House passed its own version last week, 229-203. Both measures are a response to efforts by then-President Donald Trump and his supporters to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“I strongly support the modest changes that our colleagues in the working group have fleshed out after literally months of detailed discussions,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday, September 27, before the Senate Rules Committee voted to advance the bill. He said he would “proudly support the legislation, provided nothing more than technical changes are made to its current form.”

The 1887 Electoral Count Act requires Congress to convene for a joint session after a presidential election, on January 6 at 1 p.m., to count and ratify the electoral votes certified by the 50 states and District of Columbia. The vice president, serving as president of the Senate, has the duty to count the votes. Last year, Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject some electors unilaterally, which Pence refused to do.

McConnell said he was convinced of the need for an update to the law following the “chaos that came to a head on January 6 of last year,” when Trump supporters overran the Capitol—temporarily halting the ratification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

The Senate bill already has public support from 11 Republican senators—enough to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold, if all 50 members of the Democratic caucus vote yes. Negotiations over the measure have been led by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).

The legislation would raise the threshold for lawmakers to object to the electoral count to one-fifth of each chamber. The House bill would raise the threshold higher, to one-third.

Both thresholds are higher than the current law, which only requires one House member and one senator to raise an objection, which both chambers then have to debate and vote on.

The Senate bill would clarify that the vice president is merely tasked with a ministerial role of counting the votes publicly and doesn’t have the power to determine the outcome of the election.

Research contact: @WSJ

Meadows was central to hundreds of texts about overturning 2020 election, book says

September 28, 2022

The texts included previously unreported messages—including a group chat with Trump administration cabinet officials and plans to object to Joe Biden’s election certification on January 6 by Republican members of Congress and one former US attorney, as well as other Trump allies.

The book, “The Breach” by former Congressman Denver Riggleman, was obtained by The Guardian in advance of its scheduled publication on Tuesday, September 27.  The 288-page tome, published by Henry Holt and Co., already has become controversial after being condemned by the panel as “unauthorized.”

Although most of the texts sent to and from Meadows that Riggleman includes in the book have been public for months, his text offers new insight into and fills some gaps about how all three branches of government were seemingly involved in strategizing ways to obstruct the congressional certification on January 6, 2021.

Less than an hour after the election was called for Biden, for instance, Rick Perry, Trump’s former energy secretary, texted a group chat that included Meadows; then-housing secretary, Ben Carson; and former agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, all concluding that Trump should dispute the call.

POTUS line should be: Biden says hes [sic] president. America will see what big data says,” Perry wrote. “This sets the stage for what we’re about to prove.” While Carson was more cautious, Perdue appeared unconcerned about seeing concrete proof of election fraud. “No quit!” he wrote.

The former president’s final White House chief of staff also fielded a text from the Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, who forwarded a note from North Dakota’s then-U.S. attorney, Drew Wrigley, who offered his own advice for overturning the results because “Trump’s legal team has made a joke of this whole thing.”

“Demand statewide recount of absentee/mail-in ballots in line with pre-existing state law with regard to signature comparisons,” Wrigley wrote. “If state officials refuse that recount, the legislature would then act under the Constitution, selecting the slate of electors.”

The suggestion from Wrigley echoed what the Trump legal team would ultimately pursue in having fake electors sent to Congress on January 6 to have the then vice-president, Mike Pence, refuse to certify Biden’s win—a scheme now part of a criminal investigation by the US attorney in Washington, D.C.

The text from Wrigley is significant since the Justice Department is supposed to remain above the political fray. Wrigley’s note appears to mark an instance of a federal prosecutor endorsing a legally dubious scheme when there was no fraud sufficient to alter the outcome of the 2020 election.

A DOJ spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment. Wrigley, now the North Dakota state attorney general, also could not be immediately reached for comment.

Texts to Meadows also show Republican lawmakers started to finalize objections to the certification of the 2020 election only hours after Trump sent a tweet about a “big protest” that the House January 6 committee has said mobilized far-right groups to make preparations to storm the Capitol.

The former president sent the pivotal tweet in the early hours of December 19, 2020. The panel previously described it as the catalyst that triggered the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups, as well as “Stop the Steal” activists, to target obstructing the certification.

But the tweet also coincided with efforts by Republican lawmakers to finalize objections to the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election win, new texts from some of Trump’s most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill sent to Meadows show.

Hours after Trump sent his tweet, according to texts published in the book, the Republican congressman Jody Hice messaged Meadows to say he would be “leading” his state’s “electoral college objection on Jan 6”—days before Trump is known to have met with Republicans at the White House to discuss it.

The congressman also told Meadows that Trump “spoke” with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican who had been elected to a House seat in Georgia but had yet to be sworn in, and was interested in meeting with the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Hice’s messages to Meadows came at a critical juncture: It was the Saturday after a contentious Friday meeting at the White House, where Trump entertained seizing voting machines and installing a conspiracy theorist lawyer, Sidney Powell, as special counsel to investigate election fraud.

The meeting to discuss objecting to Biden’s win on January 6 was originally scheduled for the next Monday, December 21, 2020, but it was rescheduled to take place on the next Tuesday, according to the book, citing additional messages sent by the Republican congressman Brian Babin.

Nine days after the meeting with Trump, the Republican members of Congress seemed to finish their objection plans, and Babin texted Meadows to say the “objectors” would be having an additional strategy session at the Conservative Partnership Institute, which played host to other January 6 efforts.

The timing of the new texts to Meadows raised the prospect that Trump’s tweet moved ahead several plans that worked in concert, with the Republican objections about supposed fraud giving Pence a pretext to throw out Biden votes as rioters obstructed proceedings.

Research contact: @guardian

January 6 Committee returns with another public hearing on Wednesday, September 28

September 27, 2022

“If he is the nominee, I won’t be a Republican.” That’s how Wyoming GOP Representative Liz Cheney framed the danger of another Donald Trump presidency—vowing on Saturday, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he is not the nominee,” should he run again,” reports CNN.

Her pointed comments come ahead of what’s likely to be the final public hearing from the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, before it releases its final report.

The 1 p.m. (EDT) start time on Wednesday is perhaps more calculated than meets the eye. Discussing the timing on CNN Sunday, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren noted, “In the past, Fox News does play our hearings if the hearing is in the daytime.”

“So that’s a factor in reaching an audience that is not watching CNN,” the California Democrat added.

As Cheney’s fate last month showed, the committee is up against the clock. Neither she nor Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger—the only two Republicans on the panel—will be returning to Congress next year, when a possible House GOP majority could look much different

What will the committee present this week? Panel members are keeping this close to the chest.

“I think it’ll be potentially more sweeping than some of the other hearings, but it too will be in a very thematic—it will tell the story about a key element of Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the election,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said last week, “We have substantial footage of what occurred that we haven’t used.”

Thompson also said there was “significant witness testimony that we haven’t used in other hearings,” calling it “an opportunity” to get it in front of the American people.

And, while Cheney said on Saturday she believes former Vice President Mike Pence has an “obligation” to speak with the committee, Lofgren was pessimistic on Sunday that the committee would hear from either the former President or former vice president.

“The vice president had said publicly that he thought he might want to come in, and so we were very encouraged by that. But since that time, his people have walked it back,” Lofgren said on CNN.

“And to be honest, given that select committees of this Congress—not just this select committee but all the select committees—exist only for the life of the Congress, if we were trying to get into a subpoena fight with either the former vice president or the former president, that litigation could not be concluded during the life of this Congress.”

One person who may be showing up for an interview in the coming weeks, though? Ginni Thomas. The House committee has come to an agreement with the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, CNN first reported last week.

Research contact: @CNN

Something you shouldn’t miss in the New York lawsuit against Donald Trump

September 26, 2022

Amid the 200-plus page lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Donald Trump on Wednesday, September 21, one allegation comes bursting through: The former president is simply not as rich as he has long said he is, reports Chris Cillizza for CNN.

Consider the following

  • Trump estimated that his triplex unit in Trump Tower was more than 30,000 square feet and was worth $327 million at one point. The apartment, according to James’ suit, was 11,000 square feet. And she noted that no apartment in the history of New York real estate has ever sold for that sort of sum.
  • Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was valued as high as $739 million, but should have been, according to James, assessed more in the $75 million range.
  • Trump’s property on Park Avenue was assessed in 2010 as worth $72.5 million, but Trump’s company claimed in financial statements that it was worth $292 million, the lawsuit stated.

It goes on like that, says Cillizza, but you get the idea: Time and again, according to James’ lawsuit, Trump vastly exaggerated the value of his properties in order to gain favorable loan terms on other properties – many of which he then made a profit on.

This would fit into a pattern in Trump’s life. “I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich,” Trump told ABC way back in 2012. “So, if I need $600 million, I can put $600 million myself. That’s a huge advantage. I must tell you, that’s a huge advantage over the other candidates.”

Just before he started running for president, Trump released a “Statement of Financial Condition” from 2014 that said he was worth $5.8 billion. But when he announced his candidacy in 2015, he said that same statement put his net worth at $8.7 billion. “I’m really rich,” Trump said in his announcement speech. “I’m not doing that to brag. I’m doing that to show that’s the kind of thinking our country needs.”

A month after he entered the race, his campaign revised that estimate upward again. “Real estate values in New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and many other places where he owns property have gone up considerably during this period of time,” read a statement from his campaign. “His debt is a very small percentage of value, and at very low interest rates. As of this date, Mr. Trump’s net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”

It’s decidedly difficult to know exactly what Trump is worth because he has never released his tax returns or other detailed financial information that would allow us to make that determination.

Forbes, which closely tracks the wealth of the country’s richest people, said earlier this year that Trump is worth $3 billion—up from $2.4 billion during his final year as president.

As Forbes wrote in April:

“Donald Trump, master of reinvention, has a new title: tech entrepreneur. It’s a stretch for [Trump], who doesn’t even use email, preferring instead to scrawl notes in marker. But he doesn’t mind jumping into ventures in which he has little previous experience – and this gig should prove far more lucrative than the presidency. In fact, it has already boosted his net worth by $430 million.”

The reality is—and has always been—that Trump is very rich. But not nearly as rich as he has claimed to be. It is the prime example of the “truthful hyperbole” that Trump laid out way back in the late 80s in his book “The Art of the Deal.”

“People want to believe that something is the biggest, and the greatest, and the most spectacular,” he wrote. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”

Research contact: @CNN

Special master expresses skepticism about declassification claims by Trump’s lawyers

September 22, 2022

A federal judge expressed skepticism on Tuesday, September 20, about the efforts by former President Donald Trump’s legal team to avoid offering any proof of his claims that he had declassified sensitive government documents that were seized from his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, last month, reports The New York Times.

The statements by the judge, Raymond J. Dearie, who is acting as a special masteran independent arbiter reviewing the seized materials, were an early indication that he may not be entirely sympathetic to the former president’s attempts to bog down the judge’s evaluation with time-consuming questions over the classification status of some of the documents.

“My view is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Judge Dearie said at a hearing called to determine the process he would use to do a sweeping review of materials seized from Trump under a search warrant executed by the FBI.

Judge Dearie, who had been suggested for the role by Trump’s legal team, was referring to a set of sometimes confusing arguments made by that team as it seeks to limit or delay the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.

Days after the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago, the former president made public statements claiming that he had in fact declassified some of the seized records, suggesting that the Justice Department had no case against him for illegally retaining sensitive government material. But neither he nor his lawyers have ever made those same assertions in court—or in court papers—where they could face penalties for lying.

Instead, they have danced a fine line between suggesting that, as president, Trump had the authority to declassify the documents, while remaining silent on the issue of what he actually did—or did not do. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers have pursued another line of argument, telling Judge Dearie that he should not simply take the Justice Department’s word that some of the seized records are classified, as prosecutors claim.

At his first hearing as special master, Judge Dearie seemed to cut through this confusing web, telling Trump’s lawyers in direct terms that he was likely to deem the documents classified — unless they offered evidence to the contrary.

That prompted one of the lawyers, James Trusty, to say that Trump’s legal team might in the future offer that sort of evidence—in witness statements, for example—but that to do so now would telegraph its legal strategy to the government.

Trusty told Judge Dearie at the hearing that he wanted some of his legal partners to get expedited top secret security clearances so that they, too, could view the documents–all but admitting that the documents are, in fact, classified and top secret. Trusty said he already had a top-secret clearance from another case.

Complicating the matter even further, Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the Justice Department, told Judge Dearie that a handful of the documents at issue were so secret that even Trusty’s clearance might not be enough.

Research contact: @nytimes

Top January 6 committee members propose reforms to 1887 Electoral Count Act

September 21, 2022

Two senior members of the House’s January 6 select committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to reform the counting of presidential electoral votes to prevent another riot at the Capitol over disputed results, reports ABC News.

The Presidential Election Reform Act—from Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), and Zoe Lofgren (D-California)—targets some of the perceived nuances in 135-year-old Electoral Count Act that former President Donald Trump and his supporters attempted to exploit in order to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.

“Our proposal is intended to preserve the rule of law for all future presidential elections by ensuring that self-interested politicians cannot steal from the people the guarantee that our government derives its power from the consent of the governed,” Cheney and Lofgren wrote in a joint Wall Street Journal column last week.

The full House could vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday.

The revisions would reaffirm the vice president’s ceremonial role over the count, after then-Vice President Mike Pence was pressured by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, according to the legislative text and summary of the proposal obtained by ABC News.

The bill would make it more difficult for lawmakers to raise objections to electors from each state, by requiring at least one-third of the members from each chamber to support an objection, rather than one House member and a single senator.

It also would clarify ambiguities in the Electoral College process by requiring governors to transmit state results to Congress and prohibiting election officials from refusing to certify their state’s election results. In either case, the law would allow a presidential candidate to go to court to force compliance with the law.

The proposal would prevent state legislators from undoing the election results in their states—and require that elections be carried out under the state rules on the books on Election Day.

“The Constitution assigns an important duty to state legislatures, to determine the manner in which the states appoint their electors. But this shouldn’t be misread to allow state legislators to change the election rules retroactively to alter the outcome,” Cheney and Lofgren wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

In July, a bipartisan group of senators including Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Susan Collins (R-Maine)proposed their own reforms to the Electoral Count Act.

While their proposal also affirms the vice president’s limited role in proceedings, it sets a different threshold requirement for electoral challenges, among other differences.

Research contact: @abcnews

Massachusetts state lawmaker requests federal human trafficking probe of DeSantis migrant move

September 20, 2022

A state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard has called for a federal investigation into Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis’s relocation of migrants to the island last week, reports The Hill.

Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes (D)—who has repeatedly attacked DeSantis for chartering two planes to transport the migrants—made the request on Sunday, September 18.

“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis & others accountable for these inhumane acts,” Fernandes wrote on Twitter. “Not only is it morally criminal; there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

Fernandes said he has spoken with U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins, adding that she was pushing for a Justice Department response.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

Two flights with nearly 50 migrants landed on Wednesday, September 14 ,in Martha’s Vineyard, an island known for its popularity among the wealthy. The migrants have since been moved to Joint Base Cape Cod.

“They already bused them out, they’re gone,” DeSantis said on Friday. “They said we want everyone, no one’s illegal, and they’re gone within 48 hours.”

The flights raised questions as to how the migrants came to believe boarding the planes were there best option. Local officials have suggested the migrants were misled.

The relocations were the latest iterations of Republican governors busing and flying migrants to Democrat-run, northern areas of the country. The governors argue the relocations provide relief to border communities overwhelmed by President Joe Biden’s immigration policies—hoping to raise awareness for immigration policy changes in Washington, D.C.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group that represents more than 30 of the migrants flown to Massachusetts, similarly called for a federal investigation into their relocations.

“While we are working to protect our clients’ rights in immigration proceedings and exploring remedies for civil rights violations, we also strongly believe that criminal laws were broken by the perpetrators of this stunt,” the group wrote in letters to Rollins and Massachusetts’s attorney general.

“We therefore ask that you open a criminal investigation into this matter,” the letters continued.

DeSantis is one of three Republican governors who have relocated migrants in recent months. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has bused thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago in recent months, while Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) has sent nearly 2,000 migrants to D.C.

Research contact: @thehill