Thursday, February 29, 2024

The myth of Donald Trump as a business titan gets blasted, but the myth of an honest SCOTUS also collapses as court agrees to hear Trump immunity case


Two myths of modern political life absorbed major blows yesterday.

The first is the myth that Donald Trump is a highly competent business titan -- a myth that was cultivated on the reality game show The Apprentice and allowed Trump to achieve a dubious victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, a campaign that likely was aided by Vladimir Putin and Russia.

The second myth is that the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) can be trusted to abide by the rule of law and its own precedent.

An appellate judge in New York blew up the first myth when, according to a report from Associated Press (AP), he "refused to halt collection of Donald Trump’s $454-million civil-fraud penalty while he appeals, rejecting the former president’s request that he be allowed to post a bond covering just a fraction of what he owes.

In the second instance, SCOTUS blew up its own myth by deciding to hear Trump's presidential-immunity case. From an AP report:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide whether former President Donald Trump can be prosecuted on charges he interfered with the 2020 election, calling into question whether his case could go to trial before the November election. While the court set a course for a quick resolution, it maintained a hold on preparations for a trial focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss. The court will hear arguments in late April, with a decision likely no later than the end of June.

The second item is by far the more troubling of the two. Why? There is no such thing in American law as presidential immunity, so there is no reason for an honest court to hear the case. But the SCOTUS' decision to hear Trump's immunity claim, which has zero support in American law, is the latest evidence that this court is not honest -- and the justices are determined to give Trump all kinds of breaks that might allow him to be unlawfully elected president in November.

The issue before the court in Trump's immunity case could not be more simple. Perhaps no one has put it more succinctly tha longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, who has tried some of the nation's best-known cases in criminal-defense and civil-rights law. He also has become a leading voice in online investigative journalism.

From a Legal Schnauzer post dated Feb. 6, 2024, under the headline "Criminal-defense expert: Trump's attempt to have appeals court grant him immunity was doomed from the outset, which former president should have known":

Donald V. Watkins, longtime Alabama attorney and one of the nation's foremost authorities on criminal defense (see here and here), says Donald Trump's attempt to have a court declare that absolute immunity shielded him from prosecution for alleged criminal acts committed while he served his first term as president (2017-2021) was an exercise in futility. That's because no provision of law allowed the D.C. Circuit Court to grant the relief Trump was seeking. In short, Trump's complaint was little more than a glorified "snipe hunt," which he is expected to continue by filing an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. -- even though there is little chance the result will change.

Under the headline "D.C. Appeals Court: There is No Presidential Immunity for Criminal Acts," Watkins writes:

Today, a federal court of appeals in Washington confirmed for the public what most competent lawyers knew all along – there is no such thing in U.S. law as presidential immunity for criminal acts.

None of the 46 U.S. presidents has ever enjoyed such immunity.

Presidential immunity for criminal acts is not authorized in the U.S. Constitution. It is not authorized in any federal statute. It is not authorized in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Such an immunity claim is merely a figment of Donald Trump’s imagination. This was a “bullshit” legal argument when it was first asserted by Trump’s lawyers.

We are NOT running a monarchy in America.  There is no King, Queen, or Emperor, who is above in law.

This is how Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics counsel for the George W. Bush administration, puts it:  "There is a substantial chance Trump is being blackmailed by Putin."

Why would anyone question the integrity of SCOTUS justices based on their recent actions? Let's consider our reporting on oral arguments for Trump's ballot-disqualification case out of Colorado. In a post dated Feb. 8, 2024, we wrote under the headline "Breaking the Law: The Constitution says Trump, as an insurrectionist on January 6, cannot run for president, but SCOTUS justices seem just fine with the idea":

As we have reported, two big questions hung over today's oral arguments in the ballot-access case involving Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Colorado: (1) Did Trump engage in an insurrection or rebellion on Jan. 6? (2) Does SCOTUS, in its current disheveled state, have the courage and integrity to apply constitutional law correctly?

After today's oral arguments, the answer to both questions appears to be no. That means Trump, clearly an insurrectionist based on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, will get a free pass into the general election -- and maybe beyond. That leaves us with this problem: Anyone connected to the legal profession is unlikely to say it -- but I'm a journalist, not a lawyer, so I will say it -- this morning's oral arguments signal that we have a compromised U.S. Supreme Court. And that is a polite way of saying some, maybe all, of the justices, are crooked -- so much so that they cannot rule correctly on a simple provision of law -- Section 3, 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A first-year law student should be able to get that right. That the SCOTUS justices apparently are not going to get it right -- suggests to me that they are acting intentionally, meaning they probably had determined how they were going to rule on this case before the first word was spoken this morning.

What does that mean? For one, it means Trump, who incited, or engaged in, an insurrection or rebellion on Jan. 6 -- with millions of Americans watching on television -- would be put in charge of the very government he sought to obstruct. That is the very thing Section 3 is designed to prevent; it would be like putting Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, in charge of the post-Civil War U.S. government. That is a prospect  that should trouble all Americans, no matter their political leanings.

Not only is presidential immunity nonexistent, Trump's arguments on the issue were weak, according to lawyers who have reviewed the briefs. From our post of Feb. 14, 2024, under the headline "'Really bizarre' and 'poorly written': That's the verdict from experts who reviewed documents from Trump's effort to receive presidential immunity":

Legal analysts, who have reviewed briefs in Donald Trump's presidential-immunity case, say the former president presents weak arguments -- even calling the brief "poorly written" and "really bizarre -- that should not prevail on the merits if the case reaches the nation's highest court. That, of course, is assuming the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is willing to rule on the merits -- and that is a big "if", considering SCOTUS already has sent signals that it is prepared to rule contrary to the facts and law in Trump's ballot-disqualification case out of Colorado. That means the U.S. has a deep and entrenched problem with judicial corruption throughout our federal court system, and it might require drastic measures to resolve -- if the American people and their leaders even have the will and interest in resolving it, as opposed to responding with shrugged shoulders. But that is a story for another day.

For now, our focus is on the experts who suggest Trump's immunity claim should quickly go down in flames if it reaches the eyes of SCOTUS justices. If that proves to be the case, it will mean Trump remains on the hook for the four criminal cases on his crowded legal docket -- election interference cases in Washington, D.C., and Georgia, a hush-money case involving porn star Stormy Daniels in New York, and a classified-documents case in Florida.  

As for the immunity matter, Salon addresses that issue under the headline "'Really bizarre': Legal experts trash Trump’s 'poorly-written' Supreme Court immunity filing" Writes Senior News Editor Igor Derysh:

Former President Donald Trump on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block a lower-court ruling and allow his D.C. criminal election-subversion case to move forward, echoing his repeatedly rejected argument that he is immune from prosecution.

“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” Trump’s lawyers claimed in the filing, arguing that if presidents can be charged for actions in office, “such prosecutions will recur and become increasingly common, ushering in destructive cycles of recrimination.”

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week rejected Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution, writing that “we cannot accept that the office of the presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter. 

What happens next? My guess is that SCOTUS will concoct some way to grant immunity, freeing Trump from all of his criminal legal entanglements and allowing a disqualified candidate to remain on ballots, putting him in a general election he could win, which would put a man who tried to obstruct our government in charge of that government. That probably presents grounds to have all 12 justices criminally indicted, but we will have to see if anyone in our broken government has the guts to do that.

Let's review the destruction of myth No. 1 -- the notion that Trump is a business wizard, which is based largely on his ability to read cue cards that somebody else wrote for The Apprentice. For that review let's return to the AP report :

Judge Anil Singh of the state’s mid-level appeals court rejected Trump’s offer of a $100-million bond, though he did give Trump leeway that could help him secure the necessary bond before New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks to enforce the judgment starting March 25.

Singh granted a stay, pausing part of Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 16 verdict that barred Trump, his company. and co-defendants from borrowing money from New York financial institutions. The Republican presidential front-runner’s lawyers had told the appellate court earlier Wednesday that the lending ban had made it impossible for him to secure a bond for the full amount.

Trump’s lawyers warned he may need to sell some properties to cover the penalty and would have no way of getting them back if he is successful in his appeal. State lawyers said those disclosures suggested Trump — who has more than a half-billion dollars in pending court debt — was having trouble coming up with enough cash to foot the bill. The penalty is increasing by nearly $112,000 each day because of interest and will eclipse $455 million on Saturday.

My, how the mighty Trump has fallen in a financial sense. But don't be surprised if  a corrupt U.S. Supreme Court creates a path to usher him back into the White House.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson unlawffuly received campaign cash from a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin, making the GOP look like an arm of the Kremlin

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has unlawfully received funds from a Russian oligarch with ties to dictator Vladimir Putin. Is this more evidence that the Republican Party has become an arm of the Kremlin? Mary L. Trump, Donald's niece and one of his most outspoken critics, suggests in an article at Substcack that the answer is yes. Mary Trump, a psychologist, author, and insightful political observer, puts on her journalist's hat to help break a major story under the headline "Speaker of the House Mike Johnson received illegal money from at least one Russian oligarch. There could be more." Mary Trump writes under the secondary headline "Campaign Contributions Have Ties to Russia":

The new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson received illegal money from at least one Russian oligarch.

There could be more.

As Mike Johnson settles in his role as the mysterious Christo-Fascist second-in-line to the presidency, questions have arisen about possible entanglements with the Kremlin.

As always, we have to follow the money.

In a piece that reads like a spy novel, Newsweek’s Ewan Palmer highlights a scheme that somehow failed to grab the attention of the corporate media. It’s a sordid tale about a group of Russian nationals who circumvented U.S. political fundraising laws in order to deliver campaign contributions to a slate of MAGA-entrenched Congressmen:

One of whom is—you guessed it, Mike “America is not a democracy, it’s a Biblical republic” Johnson.

The financial ties between Johnson and Konstantin Niolaev go right up to the Kremlin's doorstep, Mary Trump reports:

In 2018, Johnson received campaign contributions from “American Ethane,” a company that was 88 percent owned by three Russian nationals: Konstantin Nikolaev, Mikhail Yuriev, and Andrey Kunatbaev.

Johnson received at least three checks, each for $6,100, from the company. Why does that matter? At least one of the Russian owners, oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, has deep ties to Putin—and even funded Russian national Maria Butina, who was deported back to Russia after spending 15 months in U.S. penitentiaries for acting as a Russian foreign agent, developing close ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA), after cozying up to Republicans in order to shape U.S. policy.

As we reported in an April 2018 post here at Legal Schnauzer, former Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions (also a former AG and U.S. senator for Alabama) was firmly in the loop on early efforts to build links between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign by taking advantage of Butina's NRA ties. The goal was to form a "back channel" between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The Johnson campaign has tried to dance around the Russian-money story for several years, but their explanations appear to make little difference under U.S. law, Mary Trump writes:

Johnson’s campaign claims they returned the money after the situation first came out.

But would Johnson have kept the money if his accepting the contribution hadn’t been exposed in the first place?

Of course, as Palmer notes, its “against federal law for a campaign to knowingly accept donations from a foreign-owned corporation, a foreign national, or any company owned or controlled by foreign nationals.”

The FCC can take strict action once a situation like this presents itself.

But the FCC, for some reason, did not act strictly with Nikolaev, Mary Trump reports:

In 2018, American Ethane was fined just $9,500 in civil penalties for donating to GOP candidates.

Why does it matter if Johnson has Russian ties?

As Speaker of the House, Johnson faces one of the largest foreign policy decisions of the last decade: Will the United States continue funding Ukraine’s efforts against the illegal Russian invasion of their country?

That’s when things get even more interesting:

Mike Johnson says he will get a Ukraine aid package to the floor. He SAYS he supports its passage.

His ACTIONS tell a different story.

The organization, “Republicans for Ukraine,” who track Republican votes on the Russia-Ukraine war, gave Mike Johnson an “F” grade for his support to Ukraine’s efforts.

They note that Mike Johnson:

  • Voted against the 2022 Ukraine Supplemental Appropriation

  • Voted in favor of Amendment 21 to H.R. 2670, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have stricken $300 million of assistance for Ukraine.

  • Voted in favor of Amendment 22 to H.R. 2670, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have prohibited all security assistance for Ukraine.

  • Voted in favor of Amendment 25 to H.R. 2670, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have removed the extension of lend-lease authority to Ukraine.

  • Voted against H.R. 5692: Ukraine Security Assistance and Oversight Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023.

What happens next? Mary Trump provides insights:

Despite the fact that Mike Johnson now holds a place of enormous power in the American government, he remains an elusive character whose perverted notions of American democracy and religious fanaticism still aren’t completely understood.

That’s partially because he ran unopposed in his first election, has served fewer than eight years in Congress, had no leadership experience, and never once chaired a committee, all of which makes his remarkably quick—and essentially unvetted— ascension to the speakership even more disconcerting.

As the mysterious speaker of the House fails to walk the walk when it comes to supporting Ukraine, he casts doubt on the integrity of his attitude toward Putin’s Russia and casts yet another shadow over the halls of power.

Once again, we’re left wondering about a possible web of influence that raises unsettling questions regarding the allegiance of key figures within the center of our country’s government and many of the Republicans who are running it.

One thing is certain: Our eyes are open. And we’re watching.

Mary Trump concludes her Substack piece with a personal message:

Thank you for reading this far!
I am going to be very real for a moment. I paid a high cost by calling out my family’s corruption. But I cannot stand by and watch Donald destroy our democracy.

I currently have 120,000 free subscribers. If just 5% bought a membership at the price of a tall coffee, I could reach even more voters with the truth:

Become a Paying Subscriber Now

Thank you for those who upgrade; it means the world to me.











Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Trump's speech at CPAC 2024 was packed with lies, indicating he knowingly deceives his MAGA crowds because he assumes they won't use critical thinking

Trump wraps up an intimate moment with the U.S. flag at CPAC

 Part One

Do you struggle to listen to a Donald Trump speech? I do, and it's been that way for several years. The problem starts, I think, when you recognize up front that Trump never will be considered to have a Winston Churchill-style intellect, so you set the bar low -- and he still manages to dig a hole underneath it. 

After reporting on his recent speech at the CPAC convention for conservative activists, I think I gained some insight into Trump's problem -- or maybe it was my problem. Even by Trump's standards, the CPAC 2024 speech was a real stinker, with little in the way of meaningful content to keep your attention. But then, I noticed a trend: Trump tends to give his worst speeches when his audience is what you might call "the hometown crowd" -- as it was at CPAC. On those occasions, Trump's oratory is not so much a speech but a string of slogans, mindlessly thrown against the wall to push the emotions, and the hot buttons, of MAGA devotees. No wonder I didn't get Trump's speeches; I wasn't a member of the club, so he wasn't speaking to me. I don't live "inside the tent," so he probably did not care that he failed to reach me.

My conclusion? Trump doesn't try to bring newcomers into the tent, so he probably doesn't care if someone like me zones out a few minutes after hearing him speak. His goal, it seems, is to fire up the base, and he probably is convinced that will carry him to victory in November. I'm not sure he's right about that, but I am sure he doesn't care what people like me think. If you aren't "loyal" to Trump right off the bat, then you aren't worth his attention. I'm not sure that is a smart way to run a campaign or a country -- especially when you are seeking to be president for all Americans. But Republicans have bought into the Trump Way, so that's what we are going to receive for the next eight months or so.

As for the CPAC 2024 speech, I wasn't the only one who found it lacking. CNN presented its own critique under the headline "Fact check: Trump delivers another lie-filled CPAC speech." How's that for getting to the point? Something tells me they didn't much care for the speech. Here are some specifics:

The Conservative Political Action Conference has been the venue for some of former President Donald Trump’s most dishonest speecheslengthy, lie-filled addresses in which he has regaled friendly crowds with many of his favorite false claims.

He stuck to tradition in his CPAC speech on Saturday, repeating more than a dozen previously debunked statements. (He also made some dubious new claims we’ll look into.) Here’s a fact check of 12 of his remarks.

(1) Trump and the invasion of Iraq

Trump repeated his years-old claim that he had warned the US not to launch an invasion of Iraq.

He said: “Remember I used to say a long time ago, ‘Don’t go into Iraq. Don’t do it!’ But I was only a civilian, so I didn’t get that much press. I said, ‘Don’t go into Iraq, but if you’re going to do it, keep the oil.’ Do you remember I used to say that all the time? Keep the oil. ‘Don’t do it, but keep the oil.’”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that he warned the US not to invade Iraq is false; the claim was debunked eight years ago. In reality, Trump did not publicly express opposition to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq before it occurred. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump argued a military strike on Iraq might be necessary; when radio host Howard Stern asked Trump in September 2002 whether he is “for invading Iraq,” Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly”; and Trump did not express a firm opinion about the looming war in a Fox interview in January 2003, saying that “either you attack or don’t attack” and that then-President George W. Bush “has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps.”

Trump began criticizing the war in 2003, after the invasion, and also said that year that American troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq. He emerged as an explicit opponent of the war in 2004. You can read more here about his shifting positions.

A CNN search in 2019 turned up no examples of Trump saying anything before the war about keeping Iraq’s oil. Trump’s White House did not respond at the time to our request to provide any such evidence.

(2) Trump and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Claiming that he was tough on Russia during his presidency, Trump brought up the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany and claimed, as he has repeatedly before, that “I ended Nord Stream” and that “I stopped it, it was over.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. He did not “end” Nord Stream or render it “over.” While he did approve sanctions on companies working on the project, that move came nearly three years into his presidency, when the pipeline was already around 90% complete – and the state-owned Russian gas company behind the project said shortly after the sanctions that it would complete the pipeline itself. The company announced in December 2020 that construction was resuming. And with days left in Trump’s term in January 2021, Germany announced that it had renewed permission for construction in its waters.

The pipeline never began operations; Germany ended up halting the project as Russia was about to invade Ukraine in early 2022. The pipeline was damaged later that year in what has been described as a likely act of sabotage.

(3) The 2020 election

Trump returned to his frequent lies about the 2020 election, saying it was a “rigged election” and that “in 2020, they cheated like dogs.”

Facts First: These Trump claims are false. The election wasn’t rigged and Trump’s opponents didn’t cheat. Joe Biden won fair and square. There was a tiny amount of voter fraud that was nowhere near widespread enough to have changed the outcome in any state, let alone to have reversed Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.

(4) Biden and Trump’s indictments

Trump said of Biden: “He indicted me.” He also decried supposed “Stalinist show trials carried out at Joe Biden's orders.”

Facts First: This claim is not supported by any evidence. Grand juries made up of ordinary citizens – in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, DC – approved the indictments in each of Trump’s criminal cases. There is no basis for the claim that Biden ordered Trump to be criminally charged or face civil trials.

Trump’s two federal indictments were brought by a special counsel, Jack Smith. Smith was appointed in November 2022 by Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, but that is not proof that Biden was involved in the prosecution effort, much less that Biden personally ordered the indictments; Garland has said he would resign if Biden ever asked him to take action against Trump but was sure that would never happen. And there is no sign that Biden has had any role in bringing charges against Trump in Manhattan or Fulton County, Georgia; those prosecutions have been led by elected local district attorneys. 

(5) Trump’s indictments vs. Al Capone’s indictments

Repeating one of his regular campaign claims, Trump said, “I’ve been indicted more than Alphonse Capone,” even though Capone was a notoriously vicious gangster.

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Trump has been indicted four times. Capone was indicted at least six times, as A. Brad Schwartz, the co-author of a book on Capone, told CNN.

Also, Schwartz noted: “This isn’t a race, of course, but it may be worth noting that Capone is also way ahead in individual counts (the 1931 Prohibition indictment alone added up to 5,000 conspiracy charges).” Trump faces 91 total counts over his two federal indictments and two local indictments.

You can read more about Capone’s indictments here. 

(6) Trump and Minneapolis

Reviving a claim he began making in 2020, Trump said that he deployed the National Guard to Minneapolis in 2020 – over the opposition of the state’s Democratic governor – during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“I’ll tell you what: If I didn’t bring in the National Guard – ’cause the governor didn’t want to do it, they’d never want to do it … I wish I didn’t wait six days – but if I didn’t bring in the National Guard, wouldn’t even have a city there. That city was going down,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false – and a complete reversal of reality. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, not Trump, was the one who deployed the Minnesota National Guard during the 2020 unrest; Walz first activated the Guard more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself. Walz’s office told CNN in 2020 that the governor activated the Guard in response to requests from officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul – cities also run by Democrats.

Next: We will have CNN's fact-based analysis of Trump's CPAC speech on six additional issues (plus  a bonus issue) -- from "Trump and the border wall" to "Trump and electric cars." We invite you to stay tuned.


(7) Trump and the border wall

Touting the wall construction on the border with Mexico during his presidency, Trump said, “We built 571 miles of border wall.”

Facts FirstTrump’s “571 miles” claim is false, an even greater exaggeration than the inaccurate “561 miles” and “over 500 miles” claims he has made in the past. An official report by US Customs and Border Protection, written two days after Trump left office and subsequently obtained by CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, said the total number built under Trump was 458 miles (including both wall built where no barriers had existed before and wall built to replace previous barriers). Trump has sometimes put the figure, more correctly, at “nearly 500 miles.”

(8) Trump and the word ‘caravans’

Speaking about immigration, Trump referred to migrant caravans – then repeated his common campaign claim that he had personally coined the phrase “caravans”: “That was another name I came up with. I come up with good names.”

Facts FirstTrump did not come up with the word “caravan,” either in general or to describe groups of migrants traveling together toward the US border during his presidency.

Trump first publicly used a variation of the word as president in a tweet on April 1, 2018 (he wrote, in a tweet about immigration, “’caravans’ coming”). But the word had been used by various others in the same context in the days and weeks prior, including in a BuzzFeed News feature article, two days prior to Trump’s tweet, that was headlined, “A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Dares To Stop Them.”

Merriam-Webster says the word caravan “came to English in the late 16th century, from the Italian caravana, which itself came from the Persian kārvān.”

(9) Trump and ISIS

Trump claimed, as he has on numerous previous occasions, that although he was told it would take “four years” to defeat the ISIS terror group, “I knocked it out in four weeks.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim of having defeated ISIS in “four weeks” isn’t true; the ISIS “caliphate” was declared fully liberated more than two years into Trump’s presidency, in 2019. Even if Trump was starting the clock at the time of his visit to Iraq in late December 2018, as he suggested later in the speech, the liberation was proclaimed more than two and a half months later. In addition, Trump gave himself far too much credit for the defeat of the caliphate, as he has before, when he said, “I knocked it out” with no caveats or credit to anyone else: Kurdish forces did much of the ground fighting, and there was major progress against the caliphate under President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016.

IHS Markit, an information company that studied the changing size of the caliphate, reported two days before Trump’s 2017 inauguration that the caliphate shrunk by 23% in 2016 after shrinking by 14% in 2015. “The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” an analyst there said in a statement at the time. 

(10) Electric cars

Trump deployed his familiar criticism of Biden on environmental policy, saying, “All- electric cars. The all-electric mandate. Everybody has to have an electric car.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Biden has not mandated that “everybody has to have an electric car,” though his administration has made an aggressive push to try to get automakers and consumers to move toward electric vehicles.

The Biden administration has proposed ambitious new tailpipe emissions regulations for automakersoffered tax credits to people who buy certain electric vehiclesinvested in new electric vehicle charging stations and ordered federal entities to purchase electric vehicles, among other policies promoting the adoption of these vehicles. But there is no Biden requirement that “everybody” has to drive an electric vehicle.

Depending on how automakers were to respond, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new tailpipe rules could, if adopted, require electric vehicles to make up two-thirds of new cars sold in the US by 2032. 

(11)The trade deficit

Returning to his criticism of US trade agreements with various countries, Trump said, “And then you wonder why we have a $2 trillion deficit. If you look at it now, it’s gotten to a level that nobody can even believe; it’s so bad under Biden.”

Facts First: Trump’s “$2 trillion” claim is false, a massive exaggeration. The US has never had a $2 trillion annual trade deficit and does not have one under Biden. The overall deficit, which includes trade in both goods and services, was about $773 billion in 2023, down from a record high of about $951 billion in 2022.

(12) China’s oil purchases from Iran

Trump repeated a story about China and Iran that has become a staple of his campaign speeches. He claimed that, as president, he had threatened that he would cut off all US business with China if China bought even “one barrel of oil from Iran.”

He continued: “And President Xi – I told him this – said, ‘All right, well, we won’t do it. We won’t do it.’ They didn’t buy. By the way, they’re buying billions and billion worth of oil right now. But China didn’t buy.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim that China “didn’t buy” oil from Iran is false. China’s oil imports from Iran did briefly plummet under Trump in 2019, the year the Trump administration made a concerted effort to deter such purchases, but they never stopped – and then they rose sharply again while Trump was still president. “The claim is untrue because Chinese crude imports from Iran haven’t stopped at all,” Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at Kpler, a market intelligence firm, said in November.

China’s official statistics recorded no purchases of Iranian crude in Trump’s last partial month in office, January 2021, and also none in most of Biden’s first year in office. But that doesn’t mean China’s imports actually ceased; industry experts say it is widely known that China has used a variety of tactics to mask its continued imports from Iran. Smith said Iranian crude is often listed in Chinese data as being from Malaysia; ships may travel from Iran with their transponders switched off and then turn them on when they are near Malaysia, Smith said, or transfer the Iranian oil to other ships.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, said in a November email: “China significantly reduced its imports from Iran from around 800,000 barrels per day in 2018 to 100,000 in late 2019. But by the time Trump left office, they were back to upwards to 600(000)-700,000 barrels.”

Here is a bonus critique from CNN:

(13) Trump declares himself a ‘political dissident’ at CPAC, capping a conference catered to conspiracies 

Former President Donald Trump declared himself a “proud political dissident” on Saturday, telling a conservative gathering that his re-election would be “liberation day” for his supporters and “judgment day” for his political enemies.

The striking choice of words, delivered in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, comes just days after Trump likened his legal plight to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the leading dissident of Russian President Vladimir Putin before he died this month in a state prison. Saturday’s remarks represented an undeniable escalation of that rhetoric.

“In many ways, we’re living in hell right now, because the fact is, Joe Biden is a threat to democracy,” Trump told a standing-room-only CPAC audience. “I stand before you today, not only as your past and hopefully future president but as a proud political dissident. I am a dissident.” 

The comments capped a four-day gathering heavily influenced by the most conspiratorial elements of Trump’s movement. Inside CPAC – taking place in Maryland, across the Potomac River from the site of Trump’s failed and unconstitutional attempts to hold on to power – the former president is the rightful current president, mail-in voting is rife with fraud, and a revisionist retelling of the bloody January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol is accepted as fact.

A year after telling CPAC, “I am your retribution” – the early seeds for his campaign of retaliation that has dominated his stump speeches since launching his third White House bid – Trump on Saturday shared a new definition of political vengeance that stopped short of punishing his opponents.

“Your liberty will be our ultimate reward, and the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge,” he said. “That’s what I want. Success will be our revenge.” 

Others speaking at CPAC, though, remained committed to a more exacting fight.

“If the regime is going to change the rules so Trump can be prosecuted, (former President Barack) Obama must be prosecuted,” said Tom Fitton, president of the right-wing legal advocacy group Judicial Watch, evoking chants of “Lock him up” from the audience.

As Trump addressed CPAC, voters in South Carolina headed to the polls for the Republican presidential primary. There, the former president defeated the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, who says she is committed to challenging Trump through Super Tuesday.

Haley, though, went unmentioned during Trump’s remarks in Maryland – an animated 90-minute speech in which he shared stories of flying on Air Force One and mimicked President Joe Biden’s mannerisms.

Instead, Trump’s address set the stage for the general election and his likely rematch with Biden.

In a speech cloaked in dark imagery, Trump predicted a dystopian America under a second Biden term, suggesting the nation will be beset by “constant blackouts” and “rampant inflation,” accompanied by spikes in illegal border crossings and foreign policy decisions that he said will lead to “World War III.”

“If crooked Joe Biden and his thugs win in 2024, the worst is yet to come. Our country will go and sink to levels that were unimaginable,” he said. “These are the stakes of this election. Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

A vote for him, he said, is a “ticket back to freedom.”

Biden’s campaign in a press release called Trump’s remarks “bizarre” and said Trump and Republicans are the ones who want to pull back freedoms.

“Donald Trump is a loser: under his presidency America lost more jobs than any president in modern history, women in more than 20 states have lost the freedom to make their own health care decisions because Trump overturned Roe, and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party lost their damn minds putting Trump’s quest for power over our democracy,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said.

What are the key takeaways from CNN's analysis of Trump's speech. Two points jump out at me:

(1) In No. 4 above, CNN shows that the central contention of Trump's standard campaign speech -- that Joe Biden had him indicted -- is a lie. In clear and direct language, CNN knocks that tall tale out of the ballpark:

 This claim is not supported by any evidence. Grand juries made up of ordinary citizens – in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, DC – approved the indictments in each of Trump’s criminal cases. There is no basis for the claim that Biden ordered Trump to be criminally charged or face civil trials.  

CNN's retort suggests two things: (a) Trump has no clue how our legal system works; or (b) he is pulling a con game, a hoax, on his most ardent followers -- probably because he knows he can get away with it. I suspect bot of those are correct, which means the MAGA crowd is being duped -- but many of them have not figured it out yet. 

(2) In No. 3 above, Trump drags out his tired claim that the 2020 election was "rigged" and the Biden side "cheated like dogs." CNN bats that one down easily:

The election wasn’t rigged and Trump’s opponents didn’t cheat. Joe Biden won fair and square. There was a tiny amount of voter fraud that was nowhere near widespread enough to have changed the outcome in any state, let alone to have reversed Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.

CNN has done a huge public service by showing in straightforward language that Trump's two central grievances -- that Biden had him indicted, and the 2020 election was rigged against him -- are false.

That leaves this message for the MAGA crowd: Your "Orange Idol" is lying to you, playing you for fools. Let's hope you come to recognize that soon.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Donald Trump serves up rhetorical bilge about being a "political dissident" as the brain-dead crowd of conservative activists lap it up at 2024 CPAC event

Donald Trump desecrates the American flag

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump cloaked himself in religious imagery, casting himself as his followers' savior against the alleged incompetence and faulty policies of he Joe Biden administration. He even referred to himself as a "political dissident," an apparent reference to the  late Alexey Navalny, who recently died in a Russian penal colony. A number of world leaders, including Biden, have publicly stated that Navalny was murdered by Vladimir Putin, Russia's president and long one of Trump's favorite dictators. After several days of silence, Trump finally acknowledged Navalny's death but did not mention Putin and mostly used the occasion to whine about his own legal troubles. Just what you would expect from a malignant narcissist.

CPAC is a large annual conference for conservative activists, usually held in the Washington, D.C., area. U.S. News & World Report covered the 2024 event, in Oxon Hill, MD< under the headline "Trump Calls Himself a 'Proud Political Dissident' in CPAC Speech; Former President Donald Trump casts November’s presidential election as “judgment day” and declared himself a 'political dissident' during a speech before conservative activists outside of Washington."

Trump comparing himself to Navalny was not the only moment of irony at the event. The photograph above shows Trump hugging and kissing the American flag. This is the same guy who has talked of suspending the U.S. Constitution, prosecuting his political enemies (contrary to the 14th Amendment and other provisions of law), and even talked of having a top U.S. military commander executed.That's some kind of patriotism, isn't it? From the U.S. News report:

Former President Donald Trump cast November's presidential election as “judgment day” and declared himself a “proud political dissident” during a speech before conservative activists outside of Washington Saturday as he again cloaked his campaign in religious imagery. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) ahead of his win in the South Carolina Republican primary, Trump painted an apocalyptic vision of the future if President Joe Biden wins a second term as the two prepare for an expected rematch election.

“For hardworking Americans, Nov. 5 will be our new liberation day. But for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be judgment day,” he said to loud applause. “When we win, the curtain closes on their corrupt reign and the sun rises on a bright new future for America." (So, the guy who is facing four federal indictments, totaling 91 criminal counts, is claiming someone else is corrupt? That's rich. Did anyone in the CPAC audience even notice the irony?)

Trump also cast himself as a “proud political dissident” days after comparing himself to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the top political opponent of Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin, who died in a remote Arctic prison after being jailed by the Kremlin leader.

“I stand before you today only as your past and hopefully future president, but as a proud political dissident. I am a dissident," he told the crowd.

Do people buy this rhetorical sludge? At CPAC, where you apparently must turn off your brain before entering the building, people seem to buy it. Here is more from U.S. News on the atmosphere surrounding CPAC 2024:

Trump was speaking at this year's CPAC gathering as voters headed to the polls in South Carolina. The former president easily beat his last remaining Republican primary rival, Nikki Haley, in the state where she served as governor for two terms. While Haley has vowed to remain in the race until next month's “Super Tuesday" — when more than a dozen states will vote — Trump's campaign is hoping he can reach the delegate threshold to clinch the nomination in March.

Last year, Trump used his speech at CPAC to tell his supporters that his 2024 campaign would be one of “retribution.”

“In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,” he said then.

This time, he cast himself as a savior standing between his supporters and near-anarchy as he spoke of “hoards of illegal aliens stampeding across our borders," warned the country's social safety net and education system would “buckle and collapse," and claimed that, “the gangs will be invading your territory." (Trump is concerned about America's safety net? Isn't he the guy who has indicated he wants to eliminate Social Security by ending the payroll tax that supports the program. (America's seniors, supposedly a powerful voting bloc, want their Social Security benefits to vanish? That's what a vote for Trump is likely to get you. Have general-election voters given this stuff any thought? Republican primary voters obviously have not.)

The U.S. News report continues:

“These are the stakes of this election: Our country is being destroyed and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me," he declared, casting Biden's leadership as “an express train barreling toward servitude and to ruin.”

”A vote for Trump is your ticket back to freedom, it’s your passport out of tyranny and it’s your only escape from Joe Biden and his gang’s fast track to hell. And in many ways, we’re living in hell right now," he said, adding that: “the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge.”

It should surprise no one that Trump, a chronic liar of epic proportions, would resort to distortions and flat-out lies to describe the Biden record. U.S. News made sure to point out that Trump was lying to his audience. Here is some truth to chew on:

Violent crime is, in fact, down nationwide, according to the most recent FBI statistics. And despite public perception, recent data on the economy has shown that growth accelerated last year while inflation returned closer to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, proving wrong Wall Street and academic economists who had been predicting a recession.

Was anyone at CPAC interested in the truth? Probably not. After all, much of the rhetoric was based on a lie -- that Biden did not win the 2020 election fair and square -- and U.S. News takes pains to point that out

This year's CPAC conference has featured a parade of Republican lawmakers and MAGA personalities who have echoed Trump's attacks on Biden’s border policies, his handling of the economy and Trump's assertion that the 91 felony charges he faces across four separate jurisdictions are nothing more than a baseless attempt by the Biden administration to damage his candidacy. There's no evidence that Biden influenced the charges in any way.

In response to Trump's speech, Ammar Moussa, the Biden campaign's rapid response director, called the former president a “loser.”

“Under his presidency, America lost more jobs than any president in modern history, women in more than 20 states have lost the freedom to make their own health-care decisions because Trump overturned Roe, and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party lost their damn minds putting Trump’s quest for power over our democracy,” Moussa said in a statement.

The lineup has featured a handful of Republican vice presidential hopefuls including former candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, as well as foreign leaders like El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, and the president of Argentina, right-wing populist Javier Milei.