Friday, May 24, 2024

Poll shows many Americans think we are in a recession when we aren't; in fact, the economy is humming along nicely under Biden, so maybe he needs credit for that

(Axios)

Americans seem to be hopelessly mixed up on the economy, and that is alarming as we face an existential election in November 2024, where a vote for Joe Biden is one step toward maintaining the democracy that has served America well for roughly 250 years and made us the envy of the world. On the other hand, a vote for Donald Trump supports his plan to sweep aside our constitution and the rule of  law and usher in an authoritarian system that likely will feature "government by Trump's whims" -- and those whims apparently will include retribution against his perceived political enemies (including executions), political prosecutions that have no basis in fact or law, flawed economic policies that could lead to inflation, recession, and trade wars and ... well, you get the idea. It's time for Americans to get up to speed about their own economy because our futures might depend on it.

How deep is the confusion and misinformation out there. Per an article at Axios, polls show a sizable chunk of Americans believe we are in a recession. But here's the deal: That is not true. Under the headline "More than half of Americans think the U.S. is in a recession. It's not," Emily Peck writes:

More than half of Americans — 56% — mistakenly believe the U.S. is currently in a recession and that Biden is responsible for a worsening economy, according to a stunning new poll conducted by Harris for The Guardian.

Why it matters: The economy is actually in good shape and there's no recession. But misperceptions like this are a huge political challenge for President Biden and an advantage for former President Trump as they vie for second terms.

Reality check: It can be difficult to know if a recession is actually happening — it's a call typically made after the fact by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (The NBER called the 2008 recession months after most people believed we were in one.)

What are the characteristics of a recession, and do Americans know how to identify them? What tends to be going on beneath the surface? Peck provides clarity:

  • In order for there to be a recession, there typically needs to be a significant decline in economic activity.
  • That's not the case now. The U.S. economy, as measured by GDP, is growing.

The big picture: It looks like inflation and the higher cost of living — indicators not typically part of the recession call by the NBER — could be shaping Americans' views.

  • 70% of Americans said that cost of living is their biggest economic concern, followed by inflation at 68%.
  • Two-thirds of Americans, including 65% of Democrats, report it's difficult to be happy about positive economic news when they feel financially squeezed each month.
  • While the rate of inflation has slowed since its 2022 highs, it is still higher than most Americans are used to — and prices are up a great deal from 2019. Is that because Biden inherited an economic mess, driven by the COVID pandemic and featuring soaring inflation from Trump? An analysis from federalreserve.com shows how the pandemic, which Trump mishandled and lied about, caused on economic mess that landed in Biden's lap:
  • The Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath, including the policy responses, led to enormous changes in inflation. Prices for many items—especially gasoline, clothing, transportations services, and accommodations—fell during the sharp economic downturn in March and April of 2020, while prices of some other items—especially food at grocery stores—posted unusually large increases at that time. On net, the dominant pressure on inflation was clearly downward at the beginning of the pandemic. In the spring of 2021, however, prices for some items turned up sharply, and by the fall of 2021 the price increases had become widespread. By 2022, inflation had risen to levels not seen in 40 years. Inflation then began to recede and declined throughout 2023.

  • The bottom line: Americans' mood about the economy does not match reality, Peck reports:

  • Zoom in: 55% of Americans wrongly believe the U.S. economy is shrinking this year rather than growing.

  • 49% believe the S&P 500 is down for the year (it's up).
  • Figuring out the right answers is tough because 64% of Americans say they don't know who to trust when it comes to learning about the economy. And that number is relatively bipartisan.
  • Even if the information on the economy is reported correctly, 62% of Americans think the economy is worse than the media makes it out to be.

"Americans have perception gaps around the economy," Jacklyn Cooney, a research manager at Harris, tells Axios.

That's a polite way of saying many Americans are doing a poor job of keeping up with economic news. It's time we start doing better. It's hard to cast a meaningful vote without having accurate information upon which to base it.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tiny piece of evidence, hidden in plain sight, could turn classified-documents case upside down, with heat on full blast under Trump and Judge Aileen Cannon

 


A small piece of evidence, nearly hidden in a document unsealed this week, could spell big trouble for Donald Trump in his classified-documents case out of Florida, according to a report at The New Republic (TNR). Trump and Judge Aileen Cannon, who never has seen a pro-Trump document she did not like (after all, Trump appointed her, despite a thin resume that indicates she is unqualified to sit on the federal bench), are on increasingly hot seats.

Under the headline "One Incriminating Footnote in Bombshell Trump Classified Docs Report; A new report says Donald Trump was still hoarding classified documents months after the Mar-a-Lago raid—and one footnote reveals exactly what was done with them," TNR's Talia Jane writes:

A bombshell buried in a footnote midway through an 87-page opinion, freshly unsealed Tuesday, spells further trouble for Trump in the classified documents case.

The 2023 opinion from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell reveals that an unnamed witness scanned and saved confidential documents onto a laptop owned by Save America PAC, a political-action committee formed by Trump in 2020. The detail sheds new light on the depths to which Trump consciously violated federal law.

The explosive footnote, found on page 37 of the 2023 opinion, states that in 2021:

WITNESS scanned the contents of the box … onto a laptop in her possession owned by the Save America Political Action Committee (“PAC”), a PAC formed by the former president in 2020.

On January 6, 2023—two years later—Trump’s lawyer notified the government of what this unnamed witness had done and provided a thumb drive of the files to the government. This revelation came four months after the FBI had already executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to retrieve classified materials Trump had illegally kept.

That is not the only incriminating tidbit from Judge Howell's opinion. TNR's Jane provides more details about evidence that had been stored away under seal, more or less hiding in plain sight:

The opinion by Howell, who presided over the case in 2023, also revealed that the FBI discovered more classified documents in Trump’s bedroom months after the Mar-a-Lago raid that turned up boxes of classified materials stored in his bathroom.

Unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials is a violation of federal law with penalties up to $250,000 or up to five years in prison. That an aide associated with Trump’s PAC copied classified documents is damning for Trump—who so far has avoided trial thanks to Judge Aileen Cannon granting motions to indefinitely delay the case.

Trump is charged with 40 felonies of alleged unlawful retention of classified documents and obstruction of the investigation into his super-illegal hoarder antics.

------------------------------------------------------

Speaking of Judge Cannon, she might soon be noticing blistering heat headed in her direction, according to a report at Newsweek. Critics are scorching her from all angles because of her deliberate handling of a hugely important matter that involves possible sharing of highly sensitive documents linked to national security. Thanks to Cannon's tendency to do YUGE favors for Trump, the case now is listed as "indefinitely postponed." From Newsweek's Kate Plummer:

Judge Aileen Cannon has received further criticism for delaying Donald Trump's classified documents trial following the release of new evidence pertaining to the case.

In June 2023, Trump was charged with retaining national-defense information, including U.S. nuclear secrets and plans for U.S. military retaliation in the event of an attack, and obstructing the government's efforts to retrieve them. Prosecutors have said he took the documents after leaving the White House in 2021 and resisted repeated requests by federal officials to return them all. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidential election, has denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, a new court filing by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell revealed that lawyers found four classified documents in the former president's bedroom at Mar-a-Lago, four months after the FBI raided the estate and initially discovered documents pertaining to national security.

"Notably, no excuse is provided as to how the former president could miss the classified-marked documents found in his own bedroom at Mar-a-Lago," Howell, an Obama appointee, wrote in the opinion, suggesting Trump would have known the documents were there.

Following the revelation, Cannon, the Trump appointee who is overseeing the case, was slammed by commentators for previously delaying the case. Newsweek contacted a representative for Trump by email to comment on this story.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said: "This makes Judge Cannon's foot dragging on this case even more incomprehensible. Not like it involves serious matters, or anything."

Tristan Snell, a legal analyst and former New York assistant attorney general who helped lead the prosecution against Trump University, which was successfully sued for deceptive and aggressive marketing practices, said Trump's "handpicked judge has stopped him from being prosecuted" for having "betrayed American national security."

Russell Drew, an X user who posts about politics and has over 23,000 followers said it was "outrageous that the American people won't get to see Donald Trump on trial in the classified documents case before the election...or maybe ever."

He continued: "The idea that the Trump-appointed, highly conflicted judge, Aileen Cannon, has such power to control everything is mindboggling."

Cannon has long faced criticism and calls to recuse herself from the case for making a number of decisions that some say have favored the former president.

Earlier this month, for instance, Cannon indefinitely suspended the start of the trial while other legal disputes related to the case are being settled.

Meanwhile, Trump isn't short of legal troubles. His high-profile hush money trial is currently being heard in court and a ruling is expected as soon as next week.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Trump says he'd consider restrictions on access to contraception, sparking a political firefight and putting his ignorance of the law and governance on full display

(Associated Press)
 

Donald Trump said in an interview yesterday with a Pittsburgh television station that, if elected president,  he would consider regulations that limit Americans' access to contraception. In fact, Trump was asked twice in the interview if he supported restrictions on contraception, and both times, he indicated he was "looking at" the issue and intended to release a comprehensive policy statement shortly. Trump backed away from the statement after the story started drawing widespread press coverage and harsh criticism from Democrats.

The controversy raises a number of questions about Trump and his campaign:

(1) Does the candidate spout off whatever extremist idea enters his cranium, while giving it little or no thought and not even consulting his advisers?

(2) Does the mishandling of this issue indicate a Trump second term likely would be even more chaotic than his first, with neither Trump nor his advisers able to communicate effectively with each other -- and with neither having any idea how to govern in an orderly, effective fashion?

(3) Do Trump and his team have any clue how complex a  matter such as contraception -- born from privacy rights based in longstanding civil-rights law -- can be?. A paragraph from the website of the Connecticut judicial branch provides clues about the complexity involved:

In 1965, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, ruling that a married couple has a right of privacy that cannot be infringed upon by a state law making it a crime to use contraceptives. While the right of privacy is not specifically guaranteed by the Constitution, the Griswold Court reasoned that it emanates from certain guarantees in the Bill of Rights. Griswold then paved the way for the Supreme Court's historic ruling in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court went on to hold that the right of privacy encompasses a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Griswold v. Connecticut served as an important precedent in the Roe v. Wade decision.

(4) When Trump was asked about possible restrictions on contraception, did he know anything about information in the above paragraph. Had he ever given it any thought before opening his mouth and blabbing about a subject on which he probably is ignorant?

(5) Did Trump reveal himself to be a hypocrite of epic proportions. During his hush-money trial in Manhattan, Stormy Daniels testified that Trump did not use a condom during their sexual encounter at a Lake Tahoe, NV, hotel. Yes, the man who wants to take away the right of women to access contraception had extramarital, unprotected sex with a porn star he barely knew -- no condom. What kind of hypocrisy does that reflect? What kind of dreadful judgment does that show? And some Americans think this guy should be "Leader of the Free World"" The mere thought should send shivers down the spines of every sentient being in the U.S.  

Given the string of incidents on the campaign trail in recent weeks, where Trump has struggled to string together a few simple sentences -- causing many political observers to wonder if he might have a brain disorder that has scrambled his cognitive ability -- Trump simply might not have understand the question and was not inclined to ask a question that might have provided him some clarity? Does this, and other elements of the contraception question, suggest Trump is unfit to serve as president?

Under the headline "Trump says he is open to restrictions on contraception before backing away from the statement," the Associated Press' (AP) Christine Fernando provides a blow-by-blow account of the controversy:

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he was open to supporting regulations on contraception and that his campaign would release a policy on the issue “very shortly,” comments that he later said were misinterpreted.

The comments, made during an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, suggested that a future Trump administration might consider imposing mandates or supporting state restrictions on such highly personal decisions as whether women can have access to birth control. During an interview with KDKA News, Trump was asked, “Do you support any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception?”

“We’re looking at that and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly,” Trump responded, according to a video of the interview that was briefly posted online before it was supposed to air, then taken down.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was pressed in a follow-up question if that meant he may want to support some restrictions on contraception.

“Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others,” Trump responded, before repeating that he would be releasing “a very comprehensive policy” on the issue.

This is the first time Trump has suggested he would have a policy on contraception since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a national right to abortion two years ago, touching off political battles about aspects of reproductive rights, including contraception and in vitro fertilization.

The sections highlighted in blue above show that Trump was asked twice about possible restrictions on contraception, and neither time, did he say the subject would not be considered. AP's Fernando provides more details, showing how Trump's ineptitude -- and apparent ignorance on a subject of huge importance to millions of Americans -- caused an issue to blow up in his face, in a way that should be alarming and embarrassing to those who reside in Trump's orbit, giving his opponents a gift-wrapped opportunity to campaign on an issue that appears to present a no-win situation for Trump:

Responding later to media reports of his interview, Trump said on his social media platform Truth Social that he “has never and will never” advocate for restricting birth control and other contraceptives. Even so, the Biden campaign was quick to seize on the interview.

“Women across the country are already suffering from Donald Trump’s post-Roe nightmare, and if he wins a second term, it’s clear he wants to go even further by restricting access to birth control and emergency contraceptives,” Biden-Harris spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate have long pressed Trump on the crucial question of whether he would allow women to access the abortion pill mifepristone via the mail. He has yet to make clear his views on the Comstock Act, a 19th-century law that has been revived by anti-abortion groups seeking to block the mailing of mifepristone and other abortion medications.

When asked during an April 12 interview with TIME magazine for his views on the Comstock Act and the mailing of abortion pills, the former president promised to make a statement on the issue in the next 14 days, saying “I feel very strongly about it. I actually think it’s a very important issue.”

During an April 27 follow-up interview, Trump said he would announce his stance “over the next week or two.” It’s now been three weeks since the interviews were published on April 30 and over five weeks since Trump told the magazine he would release a statement.

When asked by the Associated Press for an update on when the announcement would be made, campaign officials reiterated a statement that reaffirmed Trump’s strategy of deferring to individual states on abortion. They did not give an updated timeline for a policy statement on medication abortion.

The Trump and Biden campaigns jostled the rest of the day over the hornet's nest Trump threw into their midst:

“President Trump has long been consistent in supporting the rights of states to make decisions on abortion,” the statement said.

Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said Trump’s allies have already “outlined exactly how they plan to eliminate abortion access nationwide with or without Congress.”

“We know Trump’s playbook because we’ve seen it,” she said in a statement. “Trump overturned Roe, brags about it constantly, and is proud of the horrific reality where women’s lives are at risk, doctors are threatened with jail time, and IVF and birth-control access are under attack.”

Trump has often relied on the tactic of promising an announcement on a major policy stance in “two weeks” but not delivering, including on issues such as minimum wage, tax policy and infrastructure. Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion groups alike have expressed frustration with the delay.

“I imagine the events in New York City have been very distracting, but we are watching for an announcement,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for the anti-abortion group Students for Life, referring to the former president’s hush money trial.

Hamrick said the group has been speaking with Trump’s team about what can be done to restrict abortion at the federal level.

Mini Timmaraju, president of the abortion rights group Reproductive Freedom for All, pointed to the GOP’s Project 2025 playbook -- a blueprint for ways to reshape the federal government in the event of a Republican presidential win in 2024. The Comstock Act is not explicitly mentioned in the plan, but it calls for reversing FDA approval of mifepristone and restricting “mail order abortions.”

“Trump will say whatever he wants, but what really matters is what he did — and that’s to facilitate ending the constitutional right to abortion and set state abortion bans into motion,” she said.

At least 22 states require abortion medication to be delivered in person either by prohibiting mail delivery or requiring medication to be taken in a doctor’s office, though such laws have been temporarily blocked from going into effect in Kentucky, Montana, and Ohio amid legal battles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Trump goes bonkers while denying that he froze up during NRA speech in Dallas, but other recent events present signs of cognitive decline in the GOP's top dog

Donald Trump appears to freeze at NRA speech in Dallas (Getty)

 

Donald Trump denies that he froze up and stopped speaking for more than 30 seconds near the end of a speech at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, TX, on Saturday night (5/18/24). Trump's denial, however, does not hold up under scrutiny, according to a report at The New Republic (TNR). Under the headline "Cognitive Decline? Trump Melts Down After Reports on Freezing Episode; Donald Trump wants to pretend he didn’t totally freeze while giving a speech at the NRA convention," TNR's Hafiz Rashid writes:

Donald Trump wants everyone to know that he did not, in fact, freeze for more than 30 seconds during his speech at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Saturday.

In a Truth Social post late Sunday night, the former president claimed that reports indicating he went silent in the middle of his remarks were false, and that he actually paused because of a musical interlude in his speech, something he claimed is part of most of his speeches.

“The reason they came up with this Disinformation is that Biden freezes all the time, can’t put two sentences together, and can rarely find his way off the stage without help. Donald Trump doesn’t freeze!” Trump posted.

Here is the rant/post Trump published on social media. Video from the speech is available at this link. We've seen no reports that Trump has taken questions from the press about the speech.

The Biden Campaign… put out a Fake Story that I ‘froze’ for 30 seconds, going into the ‘Musical Interlude’ section, when in actuality, the 30- to 60-second period of silence is standard in every one of my Speeches where we use the Music,

The reason they came up with this Disinformation is that Biden freezes all the time, can’t put two sentences together, and can rarely find his way off the stage without help. Donald Trump doesn’t freeze!

Here is more from TNR's Rashid, who was not persuaded by Trump's heated post: For one thing, Trump has experienced a number of peculiar incidents on the campaign trail that point to his apparent cognitive decline:

Unfortunately for Trump, the alleged freezing was caught on video, and the former president appears to awkwardly stop, and then resume while the music is still playing.

The incident was the second fumble by Trump this weekend. On Friday, speaking at the Republican Party of Minnesota’s annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner (which he left his youngest son’s graduation celebrations immediately to attend), Trump’s podium almost fell down after he appeared to lean on it too hard, causing the former president to attack the event’s workers and drawing a mocking tweet from the Biden campaign. 

Are these more examples of Trump’s cognitive decline? For the past few months, Trump has made incoherent claims, saying that there were “millions of people” who didn’t speak real languages arriving at the southern U.S. border and that he would stop banks from “debanking” Americans. He has mixed up former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and described his plan for America’s missile defense system by going, “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.… Boom. OK. Missile launch. Woosh. Boom.” None of this helps Trump’s argument that he can go toe-to-toe with President Biden when debate season begins.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Donald Trump openly talks about having a sitting president, Joe Biden, executed; What does federal law say about that, and could Trump be held accountable?

Donald Trump speaks at NRA convention (Getty)

During a speech Saturday night at a National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, TX, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talked about having his opponent, President Joe Biden, executed (see here and here). You read that correctly. The top-line candidate for one of our two major political parties openly talked about having his opponent, a sitting president, executed.

Trump is receiving plenty of criticism in political and media circles, but does this call for more than that? First of all, Trump is dancing awfully close to criminal territory. Consider 18 U.S. Code § 871 - Threats against President and successors to the President. It reads:

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(b) The terms “President-elect” and “Vice President-elect” as used in this section shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained from the results of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2. The phrase “other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President” as used in this section shall mean the person next in the order of succession to act as President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 19 and 20.

Has Trump committed a crime here? As a layperson who has not studied this area of the law, I'm probably not the one to say. An  attorney with extensive experience in federal criminal law likely would need to examine a transcript of the speech to make a proper determination. The first sentence of this section emphasizes threats made via the U.S. mails, so I'm guessing Trump would be OK under Section 871.

We should note, however, that the second sentence under paragraph (a) of Sec. 871 includes this language: "or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." That appears to include any such threat against the president -- one that does not involve the mail, the kind Trump made on Saturday night.

Federallawyers/com, the website for the Spodek Law Firm in New York City, focuses on an expansive view of the statute, so let's see what they have to say:

A post at the firm's blog asks this question: Are Threats Against the President a Federal Crime? Here is their answer:

The short answer is yes, threats against the President of the United States or anyone in the presidential line of succession are illegal under federal law 18 U.S. Code § 871. This law makes it a felony to knowingly and willfully make “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States.”

So if you make a credible threat to harm or kill the sitting U.S. President, even as a joke or political statement, you could end up facing serious criminal charges. Let’s break down the details:

(1) What Counts as an Illegal Threat?

Answer:

For a statement to be considered an illegal threat under 18 U.S. Code § 871, it must meet three criteria:

  1. The statement must be a “true threat,” meaning it’s intentional and expresses a genuine intent to inflict harm.
  2. The threat must target the current President or anyone next in the line of succession, like the Vice President.
  3. The person making the threat must know that it’s illegal. In other words, you can’t accidentally threaten the President and end up in legal trouble.

The law is intended to prevent people from making credible and concerning threats against America’s elected leaders. It’s not meant to punish political dissent or hyperbole. For example, saying “I wish someone would punch the President” or “The President deserves to die” would generally be protected free speech under the First Amendment. But directly threatening to kill or harm the President yourself could get you arrested.

There’s often a fine line between an illegal threat and permissible political speech. Context matters a lot. In the 1969 Supreme Court case Watts v. United States, the defendant said he would shoot President Lyndon B. Johnson if given a gun. But because he made the comment during a political rally as an 18-year-old, the Court ruled it was just “political hyperbole” instead of a true threat.

(2) What Are the Penalties for Threatening the President?

Answer: 

Under 18 U.S. Code § 871, threatening the President is a Class E felony. The maximum sentence is 5 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, 3 years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

In practice, sentences tend to depend on the specific nature of the threat and the defendant’s criminal history. First-time offenders often get probation or less than a year behind bars. But repeat offenders or those who make unusually disturbing threats sometimes face years in prison.

(3) When Can You Go to Jail for Threatening the President?

Answer:

Most threats typically need to meet a certain threshold of credibility before prosecutors will file charges. Making an offhand drunken comment about wanting to punch the President or venting frustration online is unlikely to lead to arrest on its own. The threat has to seem concerning enough that authorities need to get involved. According to FindLaw, factors like:

  • Having the means and opportunity to carry out the threat
  • Making detailed plans for an attack
  • Stalking or confronting Secret Service agents
  • Sending threatening letters or packages

Could make prosecution more likely. Most defendants also tend to have a history of mental illness or prior run-ins with the law. But sometimes even fairly casual threats said in anger lead to charges if they catch the attention of the Secret Service.

(4) What Are Some Legal Defenses?

Answer: 

Fighting federal threat charges involves showing either that:

  1. The statement wasn’t really a “true threat” under the law
  2. The defendant struggled with mental illness or emotional distress when making the threat

To argue the statement wasn’t a true threat, the defense may claim it was just a joke, political rhetoric, or that the person didn’t actually intend to harm anyone. The context around the threat matters a lot here.

Defendants can also argue they struggled with mental health issues like schizophrenia or severe depression that impacted their judgment. If successful, this could lead to commitment to a psychiatric facility instead of prison. But mental illness alone is rarely enough to avoid conviction altogether.

(5) When Can the Secret Service Investigate Threats?

Answer:

The U.S. Secret Service is authorized to investigate any potential threats against the President, Vice President, President-elect and Vice President-elect. They have jurisdiction even if it’s unclear at first whether the threat violates federal law. According to the Department of Justice:

The United States Attorney must carefully consider the possible adverse effect before releasing information to the public concerning cases and matters involving threats against the President (18 U.S.C. § 871) as well as other Secret Service protectees (18 U.S.C. § 879). This exercise of caution should extend to secondary sources of press information as well (search warrants, affidavits, etc.), and the use of tools such as sealed affidavits should be considered.

        So the Secret Service often keeps threat investigations confidential to avoid inadvertently                     encouraging copycats or revealing too much about their protective methods. They may conduct         surveillance, obtain search warrants, or refer cases for federal prosecution if the threats seem                 credible enough to pose a safety risk.

(6) When Can You Go to Jail for Encouraging Violence Against Public Officials?

Answer:

In some cases, people face charges for encouraging others to attack public officials rather than making threats themselves. Federal law 18 U.S. Code § 373 prohibits trying to get someone to commit a violent federal crime. For example, posting “someone should shoot the President” online or sharing information to help others plan an assassination attempt.

Prosecutors would need to prove the person intended for another individual to commit murder or assault and took substantial steps to make it happen. But repeatedly calling for violence against elected leaders could potentially lead to arrest even without explicit threats.

(7) Recent Examples of Prosecutions for Threatening President Biden or Trump

Answer:

There has been an uptick in threat cases during recent administrations as political divisions widen. Some examples since 2016 include:

  • An Illinois man arrested in 2022 for allegedly threatening to kill President Biden and members of Congress.
  • A Florida man indicted in 2022 for making online death threats against Biden and sending disturbing letters.
  • An Ohio man prosecuted in 2018 for threatening to assassinate President Trump at a steakhouse.
  • A Washington man sentenced to prison in 2021 for making death threats against Trump on Facebook.

Defense lawyers accused some of these defendants of struggling with mental illness. But prosecutors say the threats still caused fear and disruption which justified charges. Several cases led to multi-year prison sentences even without evidence of actual attack plans.

(8) The Bottom Line

Threatening the President of the United States is very much illegal under federal law. Even jokes or offhand comments about harming America’s elected leaders can potentially lead to felony charges if deemed credible enough. The Secret Service and federal prosecutors tend to take these threats very seriously given the risks they could pose. So it’s wise to avoid making statements that could be interpreted as calling for violence against public officials, even if you don’t really intend to act on them.

What's my take on Trump's threatening statements against Biden, based on the insights of federallawyers.com?

* As often is the case in criminal law, a lot of discretion is left to federal investigators and prosecutors. My guess is they will let someone of Trump's fame, wealth, and power off the hook. But is that the way it should be handled? I don't think so, That suggests we have a two-tiered justice system that benefits the privileged -- and Trump already has received numerous breaks from courts -- especially the U.S. District Court in Florida (see here and here)and the U.S. Supreme Court (see here and here).

* This is not the first time Trump has threatened a public official. He has called for Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to be put to death for treason.

* This is not the first time Trump has used violent rhetoric. In fact, it has become a staple of his on the campaign trail. Consider this from an October 2023 post here at Legal Schnauzer:

In speeches, interviews and on social media in recent weeks, Trump:
  • Said former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley committed "treason" and suggested he be executed.
  • Labeled New York Attorney General Letitia James — who's suing Trump for fraudulently inflating his wealth and assets on financial records — a "racist" and "monster."
  • Said special counsel Jack Smith — who's prosecuting Trump in the Jan. 6 and classified-documents cases — is "deranged" and a "psycho" who "looks like a crackhead."
  • Posted online, "IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I'M COMING AFTER YOU!" — one day after swearing in federal court that he would not intimidate witnesses in the election interference case.
  • Mocked Paul Pelosi after he was brutally assaulted by a home intruder who was searching for his wife, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • Urged police to shoot shoplifters on sight.

* Consider Trump's audience. He encouraged the nation's largest gathering of gun nuts to consider the execution of our president. Did Trump intend for a member of the NRA or one of his MAGA supporters, who may or may not be of sound mind, to carry out his threat? Consider these words from federrallawyers.com (FLC).

(a) In some cases, people face charges for encouraging others to attack public officials rather than making threats themselves. Federal law 18 U.S. Code § 373 prohibits trying to get someone to commit a violent federal crime. For example, posting “someone should shoot the President” online or sharing information to help others plan an assassination attempt.

Prosecutors would need to prove the person intended for another individual to commit murder or assault and took substantial steps to make it happen. But repeatedly calling for violence against elected leaders could potentially lead to arrest even without explicit threats.

(b) Evidence is mounting that Trump might have a form of mental illness, with his recent inability to speak in coherent sentences at campaign rallies. From the FLC website:

Defense lawyers accused some of these defendants of struggling with mental illness. But prosecutors say the threats still caused fear and disruption which justified charges. Several cases led to multi-year prison sentences even without evidence of actual attack plans.

 * Could Trump be counting on someone from the NRA or MAGA to carry out his idea of executing Joe Biden? Could he be engaged with someone in formulating an attack plan? I wouldn't count it out, and federal authorities should not count it out, either. At the very least, Trump and his associates need to be investigated.

* A final thought: Who would stand to benefit the most from the death of Joe Biden? The answer almost certainly would be Donald Trump. Take Biden out of the picture, and the Democratic Party goes into disarray, allowing Trump to virtually waltz to the White House and likely stay out of prison, related to the four criminal cases pending against him. Is Donald Trump that evil? Who knows how evil this guy is? We would ask Jeffrey Epstein if he were still alive.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Trump freezes up near end of speech in Texas, prompting social-media sparks to fly, as confusion swirls about what really happened at NRA event

Donald Trump appears frozen, confused at Texas speech (Getty)
 

Donald Trump froze and stopped talking for an estimated two minutes during a speech Saturday night at a National Rifle Association (NRA) event in Dallas, TX. Trump has been plagued by verbal gaffes at campaign rallies in recent weeks, raising concerns that he might have some kind of brain impairment. Was the incident in Dallas another in a growing line of alarming events where Trump has struggled to speak clearly -- or speak at all? That is how it looked according to a report at rawstory.com.  

Under the headline "'Glitched out': Internet erupts as Trump 'blacks out for a beautiful 2 minutes' at event," Raw Story's David McAfree reports:

Donald Trump on Saturday made major waves on social media after he stopped talking during his rally speech, and stayed silent for a significant period of time before speaking again. 

Trump over the weekend gave a speech for the National Rifle Association in Texas, and was criticized for appearing to mess up his words as well as some key facts.

It was at the end of the speech, though, that something strange appeared to happen that made Trump completely stop speaking.

It occurred when Trump was complimenting Texas.

"You have a great governor, you have a great lieutenant governor. You have incredible congress people you have just fantastic people," he said. "The Texas spirit of proud independence was forged by cowboys and cattle hands, ranchers and rangers, oil workers, soldiers and brave, brave, brave, pioneers. Many came here with nothing but the boots on their feet, the clothes on their back, and a gun..."

Trump then repeated a common firearm hobbyist phrase, "Come and take it."

"Come and take it," he said. "Together they helped make America into the single greatest nation in the history of the world."

At that point, the former president remained silent for an extended period of time as music played in the background.

At that point, video of he incident made its way to social media, and political sparks started flying, McAfee writes:

"But now we are a nation in decline.," Trump finally says. "We are a failing nation. We are a nation that has the highest inflation in 58 years. Our banks are collapsing, and interest rates are skyrocketing."

A "Biden's wins" account shared the video online, saying, "Donald Trump just glitched out and froze at his rally tonight. He is clearly unfit for office."

@Leslieannscott then responded. 

"Oh my freaking word!!!! Trump totally blacks out for a beautiful 2 minutes. It’s so bizarre set to weird cult music. You have no idea. He’s losing it! He’s at the NRA convention saying he will roll back every gun safety Law [President Joe Biden] put in place."

"He’s shaking his head in disgust as his teleprompter went down."

----------------------------------------------

From the language Leslie Ann Scott uses, I can't tell if she agrees with the original commenter or disagrees with her. From her use of the word "beautiful" and her apparent distaste for President Biden's efforts to address gun violence, my guess is that Scott is a Trump supporter being sarcastic. But that is just a guess. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder to communicate with clear language, even in the "Wild, Wild West" of social media.

Watch the video at the link above or click the link here.

A number of media outlets have presented conflicting reasons for Trump's odd behavior -- from swatting at flies, to struggling with a malfunctioning teleprompter, to intentionally pausing to allow dramatic music to play.

A Trump campaign spokesperson threw out a number of possible excuses, but I'm not sure anything he says can be believed. It will be interesting to see if Trump takes questions about the incident from the press. My guess is that he won't (and who would believe him anyway?), so confusion likely will continue to swirl about what really happened.


































 


Evangelical Christians say Donald Trump -- a philanderer and adjudicated sex abuser -- shares their values; maybe someone should re-examine their values

(TikTok)

If you are like me -- an avowed Never Trumper -- you might have had this question rolling around in your head: How does a chunk of the U.S. electorate find enough appealing qualities in Donald Trump to think he would make a good president? I don't think Trump is qualified to run a Slurpee machine, so why do some of my fellow Americans think he is fit to run the country?

An article out yesterday from the Associated Press (AP) provides an unsettling answer: A cohort of American "Christians" find that Trump appeals to the prejudices or grievances (real or imagined) that lie just beneath the surface of  their holier-than-thou image. That anyone could find a religion-based appeal in Donald Trump -- who has few signs of even a shallow faith, little to no apparent understanding of the Bible. a habit of cheating on his wives, having unprotected sex with a porn star, being adjudicated in a court of law as a "rapist" -- is enough to leave one speechless. In short, the AP report suggests a subset of "Christians," by putting their faith and trust in Trump, show that they take neither their religion nor their politics seriously. Given that Trump clearly intends to sweep aside democracy, the constitution, and the rule of law to usher in an authoritarian government, guided almost entirely by his personal whims, indicates a certain "Christians" find something lacking with democracy, to the point they want the kind of change that likely will involve Donald Trump instituting a dictatorship -- or something very close to it. Have these "holy people" been too busy, or too delusional, to notice the words coming straight from Trump's mouth? If so, it's time they came down from their moral high horse and get acquainted with what Trump plans to do to our country.

Under the headline "Jesus is their savior, Trump is their candidate. Ex-president’s backers say he shares faith, values," AP's Peter Smith writes:

As Donald Trump increasingly infuses his campaign with Christian trappings while coasting to a third Republican presidential nomination, his support is as strong as ever among evangelicals and other conservative Christians.

“Trump supports Jesus, and without Jesus, America will fall,” said Kimberly Vaughn of Florence, Kentucky, as she joined other supporters of the former president entering a campaign rally near Dayton, Ohio.

Trump supports Jesus? Is that what he was doing with Stormy Daniels in a Lake Tahoe, NV, hotel room during a celebrity golf tournament? Has this woman being interviewed even heard of Stormy Daniels -- or Karen McDougal, for that matter?

At the campaign rally near Dayton, Smith says there were signs of religious ignorance -- some might call them sacreligious -- all over the place. He writes:

Many of the T-shirts and hats that were worn and sold at the rally in March proclaimed religious slogans such as “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and “God, Guns & Trump.” One man’s shirt declared, “Make America Godly Again,” with the image of a luminous Jesus putting his supportive hands on Trump’s shoulders.

Many attendees said in interviews they believed Trump shared their Christian faith and values. Several cited their opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, particularly to transgender expressions.

Nobody voiced concern about Trump’s past conduct or his present indictments on criminal charges, including allegations that he tried to hide hush money payments to a porn actor during his 2016 campaign. Supporters saw Trump as representing a religion of second chances.

And for many, Trump is a champion of Christianity and patriotism.

“I believe he believes in God and our military men and women, in our country, in America,” said Tammy Houston of New Lexington, Ohio.

“I put my family first, and on a larger scale, it’s America first,” said Sherrie Cotterman of Sidney, Ohio. “And I would any day of the week, take a president that openly knows he needs the strength from God over his own.”

Trump believes in our military men and women? Is that why he has referred to them as "losers" and "suckers"? Is that why he skirted military service by citing "bone spurs"? This peculiar belief in Trump as a Godly, patriotic man is not new, Smith reports:

In many ways, this is a familiar story.

About 8 in 10 White evangelical Christians supported Trump in 2020, according to AP VoteCast, and Pew Research Center’s validated voter survey found that a similar share supported him in 2016.

But this is a new campaign, and that support has remained durable — even though Republican voters in the early primaries had several openly conservative Christian candidates to choose from, none of whom faced the legal troubles and misconduct allegations that Trump does. In the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina Republican primary contests earlier this year, Trump won between 55% and 69% of White evangelical voters, according to AP VoteCast.

Trump even criticized one competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for signing strict abortion curbs into law. In past years, some Trump surrogates have portrayed Trump as friendly to the LGBTQ+ community.

Trump was the only Republican candidate facing scores of criminal charges, ranging from allegations that he conspired to overturn his 2020 election defeat to his current trial on allegations he falsified business records in seeking illegally to sway the 2016 election with hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

Trump was also the only GOP candidate with a history of casino ventures and two divorces, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct — one of them affirmed by a civil court verdict.

Republican primary voters still overwhelmingly chose Trump.

This has frustrated a minority of conservative evangelicals who see Trump as an unrepentant poser, using the Bible and prayer sessions for photo props. They see him as lacking real faith and facing credible, serious misconduct allegations while campaigning with incendiary rhetoric and authoritarian ambitions.

Karen Swallow Prior, a Christian author and literary scholar who has spoken against fellow evangelicals’ embrace of Trump, said this support in 2024 is familiar but “intensified.”

In the past, she said Trump supporters hoped but weren’t certain that Trump shared their Christian faith.

“Now his supporters believe themselves,” she said. “Despite the fact that Trump clearly wavers on abortion and he wavers on LGBTQ issues, those things are just ignored, they’re just erased out of the narrative.”

At the Ohio rally, several attendees cited their belief that Trump has followed the Christian path of repenting and starting a new life.

Repenting and starting a new life? That's what Trump was doing with Stormy Daniels -- and when he sexually abused writer E. Jean Carroll, penetrating her with his finger in a department store? Based on recent news accounts, Trump did not even bother to use a condom during his encounter with Stormy Daniels. His new life sounds a lot like his old life. Smith writes:

“We’ve all come from sinning. Jesus sat with sinners, so he’s going to sit with Trump,” Vaughn said. “It’s not about where Trump came from, it’s about where he’s going and where he’s trying to take us.”

The Ohio rally, like other Trump events, featured a recording of the national anthem sung by some of those convicted for crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, whom Trump called “patriots.”

At the rally’s entrance, one group handed out pamphlets urging attendees both to “trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation” and to support the “J6 patriots.”

Caleb Cinnamon, 37, of Dayton, identified as a Christian and said opposing abortion is a top priority. He cited Trump’s three Supreme Court appointments, who proved decisive in the 2022 decision overturning of the Roe v. Wade precedent that had legalized abortion nationwide.

Something tells me Ms. Vaughn has no clue where Trump is trying to take us. Writes Smith:

One interviewee said: “Donald Trump’s really the first president who’s not only vocalized an anti-abortion stance but also put action behind it,“Republicans since the 1990s were saying ‘We’re going to do this about abortion,’ and then they don’t.”

Jody Picagli of Englewood, Ohio, said her Catholic faith and views on abortion are central.

“I’m a big right-to-life person,” she said. “That’s huge for me. And just morals. I think the moral compass is so out of whack right now. And we need religion and church back in here.”

She acknowledged that, with the Supreme Court turning the abortion issue over to the states, a future President Trump may not impact abortion law.

“But I know he’ll never go to an abortion clinic and visit it, like our vice president did,” she said, alluding to Kamala Harris’ tour of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Minnesota in March.

Christian supporters of Trump did also cite non-religious issues — from foreign policy and immigration to gas prices and inflation.

One expert on public religion says evangelical support for Trump comes from a very dark pace. Smith writes:

Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute and an author of books on white supremacy in American Christianity, said the strong evangelical support for Trump isn’t surprising. But he said that in a 2023 PRRI poll, less than half of White evangelicals said that abortion was a critical issue to them personally. More than half said that five others were a critical issue, including human trafficking, public schools, rising prices, immigration and crime.

“One of the biggest myths about White evangelical support for Trump is this idea that it’s really about abortion and they’re holding their nose and voting for Trump,” Jones said.

He added that Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants “invading the country and changing our cultural heritage” resonates with his audience.

The slogan “Make America Great Again” echoes an “ethno-religious vision of a White Christian America, just barely underneath the surface,” Jones said.

He acknowledged the racial lines aren’t absolute, with Trump attracting Black supporters such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

The Ohio rally included a vast majority of White attendees but with some Black and other ethnic groups represented.

Earlier this year, Trump hit multiple applause lines in speaking to a conservative audience at the National Religious Broadcasters convention.

“We will protect Christians in our schools and in our military and our government,” Trump said. “We will protect God in our public square. … I will protect the content that is pro-God.”

Trump pledged a federal task force to fight the “persecution against Christians in America” and “the toxic poison of gender ideology,” saying “God created two genders, male and female.”

Trump’s rallies take on the symbols, rhetoric and agenda of Christian nationalism, which typically includes a belief that America was founded to be a Christian nation and seeks to privilege Christianity in public life.

Trump endorsed a Bible edition that includes U.S. founding documents and the lyrics to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“This is a Bible specifically for a kind of White evangelical audience that sees themselves as the rightful inheritors of the country,” Jones said, citing a 2023 PRRI poll in which about half of White evangelicals agreed that God intended America as a promised land for European Christians.

Trump’s campaign events have the feel of a worship service. The former president has shared a “God Made Trump” video depicting him in messianic terms. Jones said Trump builds on the messianic theme with statements like, “They’re not after me, they’re after you. I’m just standing in the way.”

But Mark DeVine, a Southern Baptist pastor and seminary professor from Birmingham, AL, wrote in the online journal American Reformer that conservative Christians support Trump because “elected Democrats and Democrat-serving, unelected bureaucrats” have an “evil” agenda on issues ranging from abortion to gender to the border to pandemic lockdowns that kept churches closed.

“Trumpers want to shield themselves, their children, their communities, and the nation they love from the woke, totalitarian onslaught now being unleashed upon them where they live, work, study, play, and worship,” he wrote.

At the Ohio rally, some said they believed the nation or its founding documents, such as the Bill of Rights, had Christian origins, though historians dispute such assertions.

Some Trump supporters voiced hope for a more Christian America.

Thomas Isbell of Greensboro, North Carolina, who has set up vending booths for years at Trump rallies around the country, said his “God, Guns & Trump” shirts are a top seller.

“It’s a Christian country,” he said, adding that if he were president, he would only allow public worship by Christians.

“We’re not going to set up a temple to no other gods in our land,” he said.