Trump hush-money trial judge rejects new demand to recuse himself from case

April 16, 2024

Former President Donald Trump’s hush-money judge declined to recuse himself from the trial underway on Monday, April 15—refusing Trump’s latest demand that he step aside over his daughter’s employment at a firm that works for prominent Democrats, reports The Hill.

Judge Juan Merchan’s refusal to step back from the trial—made from the bench on the first day of Trump’s first criminal trial—eliminates what could have been an eleventh-hour curveball before jury selection begins. He said the motion relied on “a series of references, innuendos, and unsupported speculation.”

It follows Merchan’s rejection of the former president’s similar recusal motion last year and a series of failed attempts by Trump’s legal team earlier this week to stave off the fast-approaching trial.

Ever since being charged in the case last year, Trump has repeatedly directed his ire at Merchan, attacking him on Truth Social and calling him a “highly conflicted & corrupt” judge.

Those rebukes only grew as the judge issued a gag order limiting the former president’s public statements about trial participants and insisted the trial move ahead April 15 over Trump’s objections.

Like his earlier recusal motion, Trump’s latest effort took aim at Merchan’s daughter for her employment at Authentic, a progressive digital agency that has boasted the Biden-Harris campaign and other prominent Democrats as clients.

The former president’s lawyers noted that Authentic’s clients, including Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), have used language in their digital marketing explicitly fundraising off Trump’s legal woes.

“Authentic and Your Honor’s daughter are making money by supporting the creation and dissemination of campaign advocacy for President Trump’s opponent, political rivals, and the Democrat party,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in court papers.

Last year, Merchan rejected Trump’s original recusal motion that also cited his daughter’s employment. That motion also noted $35 in donations Merchan made to the Biden campaign and two liberal-leaning groups before taking on Trump’s criminal case.

The judge said he had received guidance from a state ethics advisory committee that his daughter’s employment or the donations did not require him to step aside.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) office has opposed Trump’s recusal demands, describing his latest effort as a mechanism to avoid sitting for trial next week.

“Instead, defendant’s motion is nothing more than his latest effort to delay the forthcoming trial; and—in both timing and substance—appears transparently reverse-engineered to provide an ex post justification for defendant’s attacks on the Court and the Court’s family. This Court should reject defendant’s dilatory tactic and deny the motion,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.”

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records over allegations he criminally concealed a hush-money payment made days before the 2016 presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty.

Research contact: @thehill

Biden campaign launches Arizona ad blitz on heels of abortion ruling

April 15, 2024

President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign launched a paid media blitz about reproductive rights in Arizona on Thursday, April 11—two days after the state’s Supreme Court upheld a near-total abortion ban  dating back to 1864, reports NBC News.

The seven-figure ad buy focuses on former President Donald Trump’s latest abortion stance, in which he again took credit for overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling because of the justices he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and said states should decide abortion policy.

The move is part of a larger, more aggressive strategy to seize on Trump’s record on abortion, with the Biden team quickly mobilizing to respond on an issue it sees as the most motivating one for voters in November.

“Because of Donald Trump, millions of women lost the fundamental freedom to control their own bodies,” the ad opens, with Biden narrating and then saying: “Women’s lives are in danger because of that.”

The 30-second spot, which first aired Thursday on MSNBC, will target key young, female and Latino voters, both on television and online, according to the campaign.

“Your body and your decisions belong to you, not the government, not Donald Trump,” Biden says directly to the camera before he vows: “I will fight like hell to get your freedom back.”

The campaign said it hopes to reach voters in the battleground state this month with ad placements on shows like Abbott Elementary, Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy, American Idol, The Voice, and  Saturday Night Live, as well as sports events and entertainment programming on TNT, TLC, ESPN, FX, and Bravo.

“This week, women across the state of Arizona are watching in horror as an abortion ban from 1864 with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of a woman will soon become the law of the land for Arizonans,” campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday. “This nightmare is only possible because of Donald Trump.”

A 60-second spot released on Monday, April 8,  features a testimonial from a Texas woman who says she nearly died twice from a miscarriage because she was denied care.

At the end of that video, the ad text says: “Donald Trump did this.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to travel to Tucson on Friday to hold a political event focused on reproductive freedom, where she plans to put Trump front and center on abortion, a Biden campaign official said.

When Biden was asked Wednesday for his message to Arizonans about the state Supreme Court’s Civil War-era ruling, he told NBC News, “Elect me,” adding that he was from the “21st century, not back then. They weren’t even a state.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Judge denies Trump’s latest bid to delay hush-money trial

April 10, 2024

On Tuesday, April 9, a New York appeals court judge denied Donald Trump’s effort to delay next week’s criminal trial while the former president appeals a gag order imposed on him, reports Politico.

Associate Justice Cynthia Kern of the appeals court rejected Trump’s bid to push back the start of the trial, set to begin April 15, on charges he falsified business records in an effort to conceal a hush money payment intended to silence a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election.

Trump had filed the request to delay the trial on Monday, making a last-ditch effort to adjourn the proceedings by arguing against a gag order imposed last month by the judge overseeing the criminal case, Justice Juan Merchan. The gag order bars Trump from attacking “reasonably foreseeable witnesses,” as well as lawyers working on the case, court staff or their families.

Last week, Merchan expanded the order to bar Trump from attacking the family members of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the judge himself, after Trump publicly assailed Merchan’s adult daughter.

Kern’s decision means that Trump’s request will now be heard by a full panel of five appeals court judges, but that almost certainly won’t happen before the planned start of the trial. Kern’s decision set out a schedule that stretches into May for the lawyers to submit court filings for the full panel.

Her decision also comes one day after another appeals court judge rejected a separate attempt by Trump to delay the trial on different grounds—asking for the trial to be postponed until after his request to move the case out of Manhattan is resolved.

Research contact: @politico

Biden may have trouble getting on Ohio’s general election ballot, state’s top election official warns

April 9, 2024

On Friday, April 5, Ohio’s secretary of state signaled that the Democratic National Convention—scheduled for Monday, Aug 19 through Thursday, August 22, in Chicago—may take place too late for President Joe Biden to appear on the general election ballot in the state, reports NBC News.

As Secretary of State Frank LaRose wrote in a letter to Ohio Democratic Party Chairwoman Liz Walters, “The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to convene on August 19, 2024—which occurs more than a week after the August 7 deadline to certify a presidential candidate to the office.”

ABC News first reported about the existence and content of this letter.

In the note, LaRose goes on to say that the oversight can be rectified in two ways: either by the Democratic Party moving up its nominating convention, or by getting the Ohio state legislature to “create an exemption to this statutory requirement” by May 9 in accordance with state law.

Ohio State Representative Allison Russo, the state House minority leader, and State Senator Nickie Antonio, the state Senate minority leader, were also copied on LaRose’s letter.

A spokesperson for the Biden campaign told NBC News that the campaign is “monitoring the situation in Ohio and we’re confident that Joe Biden will be on the ballot in all 50 states.”

As a major political party, the Democratic Party appears on ballots in all 50 states.

In the primary contest earlier this year, Biden opted not to appear on the ballot in New Hampshire, because its primary was held in violation of the Democratic National Committee—which approved a calendar that would have seen South Carolina hold its primary first. Biden nonetheless won the New Hampshire primary via a write-in campaign.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Exclusive: Republicans to face pro-Ukraine deluge on return to DC

April 8, 2024

Republican lawmakers returning to DC next week will be hounded at every turn with reminders of the pressure they face to pass aid for Ukraine, reports Axios.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) has signaled that the coming weeks will be a make-or-break period on Ukraine and other foreign aid funding.

Pro-Ukraine conservative group,Republicans for Ukraine, is launching a six-figure billboard campaign, according to plans first shared with Axios.

The mobile billboards highlight pro-Ukraine Republican voters with the message: “We’re Republicans. We support Ukraine. Don’t let Putin win.”

The billboards will be stationed at Reagan National Airport as lawmakers fly into D.C. on April 7 and April 8, as well as at bus stops and circling the Capitol.

“Most House Republicans know that helping Ukraine is the right thing to do, but they’ve chosen to stay silent and ignore the problem,” said Republicans for Ukraine spokesperson Gunner Ramer.

“That means further loss of life in Ukraine and more leeway for Putin to act with impunity, which emboldens America’s adversaries like China, Iran, and North Korea.”

The group, which keeps a report card tracking House Republicans’ votes and statements on Ukraine, has run several ad campaigns pressing Republicans to support Ukraine aid.

In February, it ran ads in the districts of ten pro-Ukraine House Republicans—urging them to sign onto Democrats’ discharge petition to force a vote on the Senate’s $95 billion Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan aid package.

Johnson has said that he plans to have the House vote on both Ukraine and Israel aid in some form when the House returns.

He has floated several ideas aimed at making Ukraine aid more palatable to Republicans, such as structuring it as a loan and attaching legislation to reverse the Biden Administration’s pause on liquefied natural gas exports.

But Democrats have scoffed at those proposals, with some even pushing for additional humanitarian aid to be added to the package.

Any Ukraine aid package will almost certainly need the support of most House Democrats and a sizable chunk of Republicans.

A sign of withering GOP support for Ukraine: 104 House Republicans voted in September to quash $300 million in aid to Ukraine, with 117 voting to keep the funding.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has gone so far as to threaten a vote to remove Johnson, should he hold a vote on Ukraine aid.

NBC polling last November found that 55% of voters support sending more aid to Ukraine, including 35% of Republicans—although an AP poll in February found that just 14% of Republicans believe the USA is sending too little aid to Ukraine.

Research contact: @axios

Poll: Most Americans want Supreme Court to reject Trump immunity claims

April 5, 2024

A slim majority of Americans support the Supreme Court’s recent decision to keep former President Donald Trump on the ballot, according to a poll released on Wednesday, April 3, but they are largely unconvinced that he should be granted immunity from prosecution, reports CNN.

The Marquette Law School poll found that 56% backed the high court’s decision last month to keep Trump on Colorado’s presidential ballot despite claims he violated the “insurrectionist ban” in the 14th Amendment with his conduct ahead of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Nearly40% said they opposed the decision.

But 62% of respondents opposed granting “former presidents” immunity, compared with 20% who supported that idea.

The poll landed as the justices prepare to hear arguments this month in a blockbuster dispute over whether Trump may claim immunity from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion case. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has argued that his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were part of his official capacity as president.

Pollsters asked half of respondents whether “former presidents” should receive immunity and the other half whether “former President Donald Trump,” specifically, should be shielded from prosecution. The share of respondents supporting immunity for Trump rose by 8 percentage points.

The difference, the poll’s director said, appeared to be due largely to Republicans who generally oppose immunity for “former presidents” but who were more willing to support such protections for Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

“The striking finding is that Republicans reverse themselves when asked about Trump rather than ‘former presidents,’” said Charles Franklin, a professor of law and public policy and the director of the Marquette Law School poll.

“One implication is that Republicans are not paying enough attention to Trump’s Supreme Court appeal to realize without prompting that the immunity case is about Trump,” he added. “Only when the question directly says, ‘This is about Trump’ do they swing sharply, reversing what they would think about ‘former presidents’ in general.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the immunity case on April 25, rounding out its scheduled arguments with one of the most closely watched cases of the year.

In another experiment, pollsters noted in interviews with half of the respondents that the court had decided that the Trump “insurrectionist ban” dispute “unanimously” and omitted the description with the other half.

Including the word “unanimously” led to a slightly higher approval of the decision—but also a higher share of respondents who were opposed.

The court was unanimous in its bottom-line conclusion in the ballot case but split deeply over the reasoning.

Americans’ support for the Supreme Court has slipped considerably in recent years following a series of controversial rulings, notably the 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that established a constitutional right to abortion. Several justices, meanwhile, have faced blowback over ethics and transparency controversies.

The new Marquette poll found 47% approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing—a slight increase over recent polling, but well below where it stood just three years ago.

Research contact: @CNN

Special Counsel blasts judge’s jury instruction request in Trump documents case

April  4, 2024

In perhaps prosecutors’ strongest rebuke yet to how Judge Aileen Cannon has handled the classified documents case against former President Donald Trump, Special Counsel Jack Smith said in court filings late on Tuesday evening, April 2, that the judge had ordered briefings based on a “fundamentally flawed” understanding of the case that has “no basis in law or fact,” reports CNN.

Smith’s team harshly critiqued Cannon’s request for jury instructions, which embraced Trump’s claims that he had broad authority to take classified government documents and said it would seek an appeals court review if she accepted the former president’s arguments about his record-retention powers.

In an unusual order last month, Cannon asked attorneys on the classified documents case to submit briefs on potential jury instructions defining terms of the Espionage Act, under which Trump is charged over mishandling 32 classified records.

Specifically, Cannon asked the special counsel and defense attorneys to write two versions of proposed jury instructions:

  • The first scenario would instruct a jury to assess whether each of the records that Trump is accused of retaining fell into the categories of “personal” or “presidential” as laid out by the Presidential Records Act, a post-Watergate law that governs how White House records belonging to the government are to be handled at the end of a presidency.
  • The second version Cannon asked for assumes that, as president, Trump had complete authority to take any records he wanted from the White House, which would make it nearly impossible for prosecutors to secure a conviction. If she were to institute this sort of instruction, Smith’s team said, “the Government must be provided with an opportunity to seek prompt appellate review.”

“Both scenarios rest on an unstated and fundamentally flawed legal premise—namely, that the Presidential Records Act and, in particular, its distinction between ‘personal’ and ‘presidential’ records, determines whether a former President is ‘authorized,’ under the Espionage Act, to possess highly classified documents and store them in an unsecure facility,” the special counsel’s team wrote.

If allowed to be presented to a jury, prosecutors said, “that premise would distort the trial.”

Cannon’s request came days after she heard arguments over whether the Presidential Records Act granted the former president broad authority to characterize any record from his time in the White House as personal. Trump’s attorneys claim he did have that authority and have asked the judge to throw out the criminal charges.

In their own proposed jury instructions filed Tuesday evening, Trump’s defense attorneys suggested that, in the first hypothetical, Cannon tell trial jurors that Trump was “authorized” by the PRA to “possess a category of documents defined as ‘personal records,’ both during and after his term in office.”

In the second scenario, defense attorneys wrote that “there can be no appropriate jury instructions relating to factual issues … because that scenario forecloses prosecution of President Trump.”

Trump’s proposal also challenges Smith’s ability to prove the former president kept the documents “knowingly”—meaning that he was aware it was against the law.

“Medical science has not yet devised an instrument which can record what was in one’s mind in the distant past,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors have repeatedly said that the PRA is not relevant to the charges against Trump, as the conduct he is accused of happened after his term as president ended. Trump’s claim that he deemed the records personal are “pure fiction,” invented once the National Archives had retrieved boxes with classified information from Mar-a-Lago two years after he left office, they wrote Tuesday.

Their new filing sheds light on some of the evidence that investigators have collected about Trump’s record-keeping habits during his presidency.

According to the prosecutors’ account, there is no evidence that Trump designated the relevant classified records as personal when he left the White House; and the prosecutors said he got the idea that he did have such power many months later, from the leader of a conservative legal organization.

Cannon appeared skeptical that the charges should be outright dismissed during the hearing, but she said that Trump’s attorneys were making “forceful” arguments that may be appropriate to present to a trial jury.

Still, Cannon has not made an official ruling on the request to dismiss the case, and her request for hypothetical jury instructions appears to show that the judge is still considering how, or if, the PRA fits into the case at large.

Research contact: @CNN

Judge slaps expanded gag order on Trump after attacks on his daughter

April 3, 2024

Justice Juan Merchan expanded the existing gag order ahead of this month’s hush money trial in Manhattan to cover family members of the district attorney and the judge himself, reports Politico.

The New York judge has tightened restrictions on what Donald Trump can say in the lead-up to his criminal trial later this month. Trump’s trial, over allegations he broke the law by paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with her, will start in two weeks.

The move comes after Trump attacked the adult daughter of Justice Merchan, who had issued a gag order last week barring Trump from attacking court staff and prosecutors. It shows Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s first criminal trial, isn’t shy about clamping down on rhetoric from Trump that he views as incendiary.

In his order, Merchan lambasted Trump’s latest rhetoric: “The average observer, must now, after hearing Defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well,” he wrote. “Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

Reached for comment on Monday evening, Steven Cheung, the communications director for Trump’s campaign, called the order “unconstitutional” and said it violates “the civil rights” of his social media followers, who “have a First Amendment right to receive and listen to his speech.”

Over the weekend, Trump dubbed Merchan’s daughter a “Rabid Trump Hater” for her work at a firm that has Democratic clients. He also accused her of using a picture of him in jail as her profile picture on a social media account, but a court official said another person had taken over the account when that picture was added.

Trump’s attacks on Merchan’s daughter are part of a pattern. In two other court cases over the past six months, judges have imposed gag orders barring Trump from going after witnesses and court employees. But Trump has instead attacked the judges and some of their family members—who were exempted from the other gag orders, which judges can deploy to protect the safety of people involved in the case.

Research contact: @politico

César Chávez’s family demands RFK Jr. stop using images of the iconic labor leader in his campaign

April 2, 2024

The family of César Chávez wants independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to stop referencing the late labor and civil rights leader on the campaign trail, reports NBC News.

“We respectfully call upon you and your campaign to cease using images of our father to associate yourself with him and suggest your campaign’s goals are compatible,” said the letter signed by Chávez’s eldest son, Fernando Chávez.

“It is our sincere conviction that this association is untrue and deceptive,” he added.

The letter said that the family would “pursue all legal action available” if Kennedy failed to halt his campaign’s use of the United Farm Workers co-founder’s name and imagery.

When reached for comment, Kennedy campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said: “RFK Jr.’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a good friend of César Chávez and a staunch supporter of farmworkers throughout his life. RFK Jr. has carried on that legacy and has spent more than 40 years fighting against the poisoning of workers and consumers.”

On Friday, ahead of César Chávez Day, the Chávez family formally endorsed President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign. One of César Chávez’s granddaughters, Julie Rodriguez Chavez, serves as Biden’s 2024 campaign manager. Dolores Huerta, Chavez’s partner in founding the UFW, has also remained a Biden ally.

In 1968, Kennedy’s father, former Attorney General Robert Kennedy Sr., flew to California to join Chavez after he had engaged in a water-only fast for 25 days. Kennedy Sr.—at the time running for the Democratic presidential nomination—lent considerable political backing to the farm labor movement’s nonviolent efforts, which included a multiyear strike of the California grape industry. His relationship with Chavez was a key marker for the Democratic Party’s embrace of the farmworkers’ labor rights movement. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

Kennedy Jr. is holding an event in Los Angeles that his campaign said will “celebrate the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez, a good friend of RFK and RFK, Jr.” The invitation for the event includes a photo of Kennedy Sr. and Chávez.

In July 2023, at a conference for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Kennedy commented on his family’s relationship with Chavez.

“My father’s close—and probably most important political alliance—which was César Chávez, who helped him win the California primary during the last day of his life and remained a very, very close friend of mine for most of my adult life,” Kennedy said.

Research contact: @NBCNews