December 7, 2022
A report published by The Washington Post claims that money from former President Donald Trump’s political action committee (PAC), paid the legal bills of some witnesses involved in the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal inquiry into Trump’s improper handling and retention of classified documents found in an FBI search at his Mar-a-Lago Club .
According to The Guardian, another is valet Walt Nauda, who told FBI agents that he had moved boxes at Trump’s direction around his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida while the government was trying to retrieve documents and records that should have been preserved in Washington DC.
The payment of witnesses’ legal fees by a political group whose purse strings Trump controls, while not illegal, raises ethical concerns and poses a conflict, the Post says.
It quotes former federal prosecutor Jim Walden, who questioned if the payments to witnesses’ lawyers by the Trump fund influenced their testimony or level of cooperation.
“It looks like the Trump political action committee is either paying for the silence of these witnesses, for them to take the Fifth [amendment] or for favorable testimony,” Walden said, referring to the constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
He added, “These circumstances should look very suspicious to the justice department, and there’s a judicial mechanism for them to get court oversight if there’s a conflict.”
Federal investigators are already looking into Trump Save America PAC, and in September subpoenaed two of the former president’s advisers, senior aide Stephen Miller and ex-director of White House political affairs Brian Jack, over fundraising for efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
The Guardian has reported previously how Trump retained documents bearing classification markings, along with communications from after his presidency, at his Florida resort following his departure from the White House in January 2021.
FBI agents raided Trump’s private members’ club in August and uncovered thousands of documents—including hundreds marked classified—that his legal team insisted already had been returned to government archives. Nauda, the valet, told FBI investigators that Trump directed him to move boxes of documents around the property.
The justice department’s criminal investigation is looking into whether Trump mishandled national security information, including whether he destroyed documents.
Research contact: @guardian
December 6, 2022
Former President Donald Trump trails Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and outgoing Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) in a new Utah poll of possible GOP contenders for the 2024 presidential race, reports The Hill.
Trump was more popular than Cheney among self-identified Republicans—earning 21.1% to Cheney’s 10%—but DeSantis still emerged ahead in that group with 33.1%. The Florida governor has long been seen as a top potential challenger to Trump for the GOP nomination, and saw his stock rise further after a blowout reelection win last month.
December 5, 2022
President Joe Biden has asked leaders of the Democratic National Committee to make South Carolina the nation’s first primary state, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later; and to hold subsequent weekly primaries in Georgia and Michigan, according to Democrats briefed on the plans, reports The Washington Post.
The tectonic decision to remake his party’s presidential nominating calendar for 2024 came as a shock to party officials and state leaders who had been lobbying hard in recent weeks to gain a place in the early calendar, which historically attracts millions of dollars in candidate spending and attention. While many in the party had long anticipated changes, the specific order Biden proposed had generated little if any chatter in Democratic circles. Much of the talk among Democrats had not focused much on either South Carolina going first or Georgia joining the early mix.
The proposal is likely to win approval from the Democratic officials, given the support from the leader of the party. By breaking with decades of tradition, Biden’s move is meant to signal his party’s commitment to elevating more variety—demographic, geographic, and economic—in the early nominating process. Iowa, a largely White state that historically held the nation’s first Democratic caucus and experienced embarrassing problems tabulating results in 2020, would have no early role in the Biden plan.
“We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” Biden wrote in a letter to members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee that was delivered on Thursday evening, December 1, as members planned to meet for dinner. “As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color—and that includes Black, Brown, and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters.”
The new calendar would run through states that were pivotal to Biden’s victory in the 2020 nominating fight and general election, suggesting he is serious about following through on his public statements about intending to seek reelection. In the Thursday letter, Biden told fellow Democrats that he did not want to bind the party to the same calendar in 2028.
“The Rules and Bylaws Committee should review the calendar every four years, to ensure that it continues to reflect the values and diversity of our party and our country,” he wrote.
The plan is expected to face resistance from some of the affected states. Democrats in New Hampshire said Thursday night that they would not abide by Biden’s wishes. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has also said he would follow state law and hold his state’s primary a week before any other.
“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first. We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this.”
Iowa Democrats also signaled resistance to the plan. “This is merely a recommendation,” said Scott Brennan, Iowa’s representative on the Rules and Bylaws Committee. “We’re going to stand up for Iowa’s place in the process.”
“This is a principled decision. Fundamentally, he felt that this was an opportunity,” said one Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to more openly describe the president’s decision to prioritize states with more diverse electorates. “He has done it with the Supreme Court. He has done it with his Cabinet and his administration. He just felt it was very important.”
The Michigan delegation greeted the news as a success. “This president knows that any road to the White House has to go through the heartland of America,” said Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), who had helped to lead her state’s bid. “To me this has been a 30-year quest,” she said, referring to her work with the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to get the state on the early calendar.
South Carolina Democrats also welcomed the news. “It appears as though President Biden is not only transforming our country,” Trav Robertson, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, wrote in a text message. “He’s transforming the way in which we nominate presidents. He is going to have a lasting impact on America.”
“I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better,” Biden wrote on Thursday. “For 50 years, the first month of our presidential nominating process has been a treasured part of our democratic process, but it is time to update the process for the 21st century.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost
December 1, 2022
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was convicted on Tuesday, November 29, along with one of his subordinates, of seditious conspiracy as a jury found them guilty of seeking to keep former President Donald Trump in power through an extensive plot that started after the 2020 election and culminated in the mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, reports The New York Times.
The jury in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., found three other defendants in the case not guilty of sedition and acquitted Rhodes of two separate conspiracy charges.
The split verdicts, coming after three days of deliberations, were a landmark—if not total—victory for the Justice Department, which poured enormous effort into prosecuting Rhodes and his four co-defendants.
The sedition convictions marked the first time in nearly 20 trials related to the Capitol attack that a jury had decided that the violence that erupted on January 6, 2021, was the product of an organized conspiracy.
Seditious conspiracy is the most serious charge brought so far in any of the 900 criminal cases stemming from the vast investigation of the Capitol attack—an inquiry that could still result in scores, if not hundreds, of additional arrests.
Rhodes, 57, also was found guilty of obstructing the certification of the election during a joint session of Congress on January 6 and of destroying evidence in the case. On those three counts, he faces a maximum of 60 years in prison.
Nearly two years after the assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters, the events of January 6 and what led up to them remain at the center of American politics and the subject of multiple investigations, including an inquiry by the Justice Department into any criminal culpability that Trump and some of his allies might face and an exhaustive account being assembled by a House select committee.
The conviction of Rhodes underscored the seriousness and intensity of the effort by pro-Trump forces to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election and was the highest-profile legal reckoning yet from a case related to January 6.
Rhodes was also acquitted of two different conspiracy charges: one that accused him of plotting to disrupt the election certification in advance of January 6 and the other of planning to stop members of Congress from discharging their duties that day.
Taken as a whole, the verdicts suggested that the jury rejected the centerpiece of Rhodes’s defense: that he had no concrete plan on January 6 to disrupt the transfer of presidential power and to keep Joe Biden from entering the White House.
But the jury also made the confusing decision to acquit Rhodes of planning in advance to disrupt the certification of the election yet convict him of actually disrupting the certification process. That suggested that the jurors may have believed that the violence at the Capitol on January 6 erupted more or less spontaneously, as Rhodes has claimed.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Attorney General Merrick Garland noted the convictions against all five defendants. “The Justice Department is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021,” he said.
Research contact: @nytimes
November 30, 2022
For much of Donald Trump’s presidency, Jewish Republicans rationalized away the bigoted fringe of Trump’s coalition—arguing that the unsavory supporters in his midst and the antisemitic tropes he deployed paled in comparison with the staunchly pro-Israel policies of his administration, reports The New York Times.
But last week, Trump dined at his Palm Beach palace, Mar-a-Lago, with the performer Kanye West, who had already been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and Holocaust denier, granting the antisemitic fringe a place of honor at his table. Now, even some of Trump’s staunchest supporters say they can no longer ignore the abetting of bigotry by the nominal leader of the Republican Party.
“I am a child of survivors. I have become very frightened for my people,” Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, said on Monday, November 28—referring to his parents’ survival of the Holocaust. “Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams; he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”
Not all Republican leaders have spoken out, but Jewish Republicans are slowly peeling away from a former president who, for years, insisted he had no ties to the bigoted far right, but refused to repudiate it. Jewish figures and organizations that have stood by Trump—from Klein’s group to the pro-Trump commentator Ben Shapiro to Trump’s own former ambassador to Israel and onetime bankruptcy lawyer, David M. Friedman—all have spoken out since the dinner.
For Jews, the concern extends far beyond a single meal at Mar-a-Lago, although that dinner has become a touchstone, especially for Jewish Republicans.
“We have a long history in this country of separating the moral character of the man in the White House from his conduct in office, but with Trump, it’s gone beyond any of the reasonably acceptable and justifiable norms,” Jay Lefkowitz, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a supporter of many of Trump’s policies, said on Monday.
For American Jewry, the debate since the dinner has brought into focus what may be the most discomfiting moment in U.S. history in a half-century or more.
On Monday afternoon, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, went to the Senate floor to denounce Trump’s actions as “disgusting and dangerous,” then called them “pure evil.”
West, a figure with an enormous following, has espoused hatred of the Jews. The basketball star Kyrie Irving has spread antisemitic views with a tweet, though he eventually apologized. Neo-Nazis are returning to Twitter, bringing memes and coded messages not seen for years, now that its new owner, Elon Musk, has reinstated accounts that had been blocked for bigotry.
“The level of antisemitism being expressed, antisemitic acts at a very elevated level, and the acceptability of antisemitism — it is all creating an environment which is, thank God, unusual for the United States, and it has to be nipped in the bud. That’s it. That’s the moment we’re in,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which represents the branch of Judaism that has been most supportive of Trump.
Now, West has promised on Twitter to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.” The comedian Dave Chappelle delivered a stinging monologue on “Saturday Night Live” on “the Jews” and their numbers in Hollywood. And at the same time, American Jewry is divided over whether denunciations of Trump might harm American policy toward Israel, should he return to power, Peter Hayes, a Northwestern University historian, said.
“The more people prioritize Israel, the more they are willing to make excuses for Trump, and that just makes me sad,” he said.
Research contact: @nytimes
November 29, 2022
The former president is not bending the GOP to his will the way he used to. Donald Trump’s lackluster campaign announcement on November 15 was one thing. His real problem is fast becoming the collective shrug Republicans have given him in the week-plus since, reports Politico.
Far from freezing out potential competitors, Trump’s announcement was followed by a slew of potential 2024 contenders appearing at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas over the weekend, where at least one Republican who previously had said she would defer to Trump if he ran—former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley—now said she is considering running in a “serious way.”
A super PAC supporting Trump’s chief rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, plans to begin airing TV ads in Iowa on Friday, December 2. And even the news that Elon Musk was lifting Trump’s ban on Twitter wasn’t breaking through.
The morning after the former president’s account was reinstated—a development once viewed as a significant lift to Trump’s candidacy—Fox News Sunday spent more time talking about the ticketing debacle surrounding Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour.
“The people talking about [Trump’s campaign announcement] in my circles, it’s almost like it didn’t happen,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state and who was a national co-chair of Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2016. Donald“That, to me, is what is telling, where people believe we probably need to move forward; not look in the rear view mirror.”
Ever since he steamrolled through the 2016 presidential primary, and even after his defeat four years later, Trump had bent the GOP to his will—reshaping the party’s infrastructure in Washington, D.C., and the states to serve his interests, tearing down Republican dynasties, and hand-picking congressional and statewide nominees.Se
Now, leading Republicans are no longer cowering before Trump, and for the first time since he rode down the escalator in 2015, many aren’t listening to him at all. They are dodging questions about Trump’s candidacy, or openly defying him by rallying around DeSantis—even though the Florida governor is not yet, as Senator Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming declared, the “leader of the Republican Party.”
“There’s a significant number of people out there who really are opposed to him, and I don’t think will change their minds over the course of the next two years,” said Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman and anti-illegal immigration crusader from Colorado who called Trump “one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.”
He added, “You can’t deny that that’s a problem for him … I’m worried about his electability, surely.”
However, Trump may still be the frontrunner to win the GOP nomination. In a Politico/Morning Consult poll this week, Trump was still running 15 percentage points ahead of DeSantis among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. If a wide field of more traditionalist Republicans split the primary vote in early nominating states, as they did in 2016, Trump could still cut through his competitors with less-than-majority support.
“His unique selling point is, ‘I did this, I fixed the economy, I gave you the Abraham Accords, I kept peace, I fixed the border with no help from the Washington politicians,’” said one Republican strategist close to Trump.
Trump’s path, the strategist said, is to remind Republicans what they liked about his presidency, and to emphasize that, unlike his competitors, he has “done it before.”
What Trump also has done, however, is lose—and drag the GOP down with him. Following a midterm election in which Republicans failed to retake the Senate, the GOP is desperate for a win in 2024. And while presidential primaries are always colored to some degree by concerns about electability, the earliest stages of the 2024 contest, as one longtime GOP operative in Iowa put it, are “just about winning.”
Research contact: @politico
December 28, 2022
On Wednesday, November 23, the Georgia Supreme Court denied the state Republican Party’s bid to block early voting in the hotly contested Senate runoff from moving forward on Saturday, November 26, reports NBC News.
The brief unanimous ruling by the state’s high court upheld last week’s decision by a Fulton County judge blocking a directive from Georgia’s secretary of state prohibiting counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, had argued that changes to Georgia voting laws meant that there could be no early voting November 26—the only Saturday when it would have been possible for Georgians to cast an early vote in the December 6 runoff election between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Early voting is required to be available statewide Monday through Friday of next week.
“The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” Judge Thomas A. Cox wrote in a ruling last Friday.
The state Republican Party appealed the decision, arguing it was allowing “illegal advance voting.”
The dispute centered on a provision of Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in March 2021, which stipulates that early in-person voting must not be held on any Saturday that follows a “public or legal holiday” on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Raffensperger contended that meant there could be no early in-person voting November 26, the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock’s campaign argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applied to primaries and general elections, but not to runoff elections. Cox agreed.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Warnock campaign, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and the state Democratic Party called the state Supreme Court ruling “a victory for every Georgia voter.”
Early voting opened in at least one of the state’s 159 counties on Tuesday. In a court filing, Democrats said that at least 19 counties with a total of more than 4 million residents were planning on offering early voting Saturday.
Research contact: @NBCNews
November 25, 2022
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking testimony from former Vice President Mike Pence for its investigation into Donald Trump’s attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 presidential election, reports HuffPost.
Sources familiar with the matter confirmed the DOJ’s efforts to The New York Times, CNN, and ABC News on Wednesday, November 23. All reported that Pence, who has developed a fraught relationship with Trump after refusing to support his election fraud claims, is open to the request.
DOJ investigators reportedly contacted Pence before Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel―Jack Smith, who once led the public integrity section―to take over the probe last week. As of now, Pence has not been subpoenaed.
Although he is reportedly open to testifying before the DOJ, Pence has refused to participate in a similar investigation led by a House select committee, saying last week that Congress “has no right to my testimony.”
But that doesn’t mean that Trump is happy about it: Indeed, according to HuffPost, the former president may seek legal avenues to stop Pence from testifying by invoking executive privilege, which at the very least, could stall the DOJ’s efforts to convene with him.
Pence could be a key witness in the investigations into the efforts by Trump and his allies to subvert democracy, including a plan to create a fake slate of pro-Trump electors in several states Biden won in 2020, because of his close communications with the ex-president in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, when an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol with Trump’s encouragement.
Pence detailed many of their exchanges in his recently released book, saying Trump summoned him to meet with attorney John Eastman, who then pressured Pence to block the electoral college certification process in Congress.
Wednesday’s news comes the week after Pence shared that he’s giving “prayerful consideration” to running for president in 2024―a race for which Trump already has announced his candidacy. Pence said there are “better choices” than Trump for president last week when asked if he’d be a good presidential candidate again.
Research contact: @HuffPost
November 22, 2022
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy served further notice on Sunday, November 20, that his potential speakership will be politically volatile—saying he will try to kick three high-profile Democrats off of certain committees, reports USA Today.
Democrats said McCarthy will do whatever his right wing wants him to do because he still lacks the votes to land the speaker’s job.
In stumping for the position, McCarthy has targeted Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-California), and Eric Swalwell (D-California), members of the House Intelligence Committee.
McCarthy and other Republicans have for months said that these members’ past statements and actions regarding issues like Israel, China, and Russia should keep them off these committees.
“I’ll keep that promise” to remove them, McCarthy told Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures.
Schiff and other Democrats said McCarthy is trying to court support from hard-right conservatives like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia)—who was expelled from committees during a 2021 vote of the full House because of her incendiary statements about Democrats.
“I suspect he will do whatever Marjorie Taylor Greene wants him to do,” Schiff said on ABC’s This Week. “He is a very weak leader of his conference, meaning that he will adhere to the wishes of the lowest common denominator. And if that lowest common denominator wants to remove people from committees, that’s what they’ll do.”
McCarthy is favored to become Speaker of the House when Republicans take over the chamber next year—but it is not yet a done deal.
Conservative Republicans like Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida said they will oppose McCarthy. Every vote counts because the GOP majority will likely be no more than ten seats.
“He does seem to be struggling” to get to the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership, said Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), who is expected to be Democratic leader in the next Congress.
“Let’s see what happens on January 3,” Jeffries said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), who is retiring from Congress and ran afoul of McCarthy over the latter’s support of Donald Trump, told CNN that the presumed speaker has made a lot of promises to Greene and other hard-right conservatives.
Right-wing Republicans won’t be happy if McCarthy has to cut deals with Democrats to get essential business done, Kinzinger said, and he could wind up as their political hostage.
“I, frankly, don’t think he’s going to last very long,” Kinzinger said. “Maybe he will prove me wrong. But it’s sad to see a man that I think had so much potential just totally sell himself.”
Research contact: @USATODAY
November 21, 2022
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement on Thursday, November 17, that she would step away from the leadership ranks has set in motion a long-anticipated generational change in leadership for House Democrats, with a younger group of lawmakers set to take the mantle from the three octogenarians who have for years led the party in the House, reports The New York Times.
For two decades, Pelosi of California, 82, and Representatives Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 83, the House majority leader, and James Clyburn of South Carolina, 82, the Democratic whip, have remained at the top of their party in the House—freezing out dozens of ambitious junior lawmakers who were eager to ascend to more senior roles. Some left the House altogether rather than wait years for a chance to ascend, while many others have stayed, waiting less and less patiently for the day when Pelosi would step aside and make way for fresher faces.
Now, the old guard is heading out, and a new one coming in.
In announcing her plans, Pelosi said it was time for a younger crop of leaders to emerge, and Hoyer quickly followed suit, throwing his support behind Representative Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, 52, who is widely seen as her likeliest successor as Democratic leader.
Clyburn, who is also expected to cede his position in favor of a lower-ranking spot, according to people familiar with his plans, left his intentions vague on Thursday. But he pointed to a new generation of leaders, saying he looked forward to Jeffries and Representatives Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, 59, and Pete Aguilar of California, 43, as the new top Democrats in the House.
The three lawmakers have formed a tight alliance in the last two years in the more junior ranks of leadership and are widely viewed as the sole contenders for the top three slots in the caucus. House Democrats are scheduled to meet on November 30 to elect their leaders for the next Congress.
The three were careful on Thursday to avoid openly articulating their leadership ambitions on a day focused on Pelosi’s legacy. Leaving the House chamber after she delivered her emotional speech announcing plans to exit as a leader, Jeffries brushed aside questions and declared it “the day to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a leader for the ages.”
“We’ll see what happens as we move forward,” said Mr. Jeffries, who, if elected as Democratic leader, would make history as the first Black person in the top leadership position in either chamber.
Research contact: @nytimes