Tuesday, April 30, 2024

America's institutions -- Congress, DOJ, judiciary -- appear set to let Trump escape accountability and skate all the way to a second term at the White House

Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas: Set to grant Trump some form of immunity?

If you believe the nonsense that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth -- and it is hard to imagine that anyone would -- he is the victim of a "witch hunt," a coordinated effort by his political enemies to concoct baseless criminal charges designed to keep him tied up in courtrooms and deny him a chance to reclaim the White House in the 2024 election. In truth, the federal government has treated Trump with a mix of timidity and dysfunction that means his primary defense strategy -- "delay,delay, delay" -- likely will work, with Trump virtually guaranteed of going into election day on November 5 without being held accountable in any meaningful way.  In fact, it looks like Trump might never go to trial on the criminal charges he faces -- which include fomenting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, designed to deny Joe Biden an electoral triumph that, based on dozens of legal proceedings, he won fair and square, and the unlawful taking and hiding of classified documents and failing to return them to the National Archives when asked.

This represents a huge loss for the rule of law, according to David Leonhardt of 'The Morning newsletter at The New York Times. How did this happen? Under the headline "Delay, Delay, Delay: How Donald Trump slowed the cases against him," Leonhardt examines that question and places the blame at the feet of prominent American institutions -- Congress, the Department of Justice. and the judiciary. Leonhardt writes:

It now seems likely that Donald Trump will be able to run for president this year without having faced any legal penalties for his effort to overturn the last presidential election. To many of his supporters, of course, this outcome is just. But it is also striking.

Most Americans believe that Trump committed serious crimes, polls show. He chose not to order authorities to stop a violent attack on the Capitol, even when his vice president was in danger. And he directed state election officials to “find” him votes. Even so, Congress did not sanction him, and neither of the criminal trials related to his actions may even start before the 2024 election.

In today’s newsletter, I’ll explain how this happened, by focusing on three crucial groups of people: Republican senators, Democratic (or Democrat-appointed) prosecutors, and Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Congress would have been the most likely place for Trump to face the music. But Republican senators, under the "leadership" of Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not have the stomach for it, Leonhardt reports:

The simplest path for addressing Trump’s attempts to overthrow an election was always in Congress. Congress has the power to impeach officials and bar them from holding office again, and it has used this power before. Most criminal convictions, by contrast, do not prevent somebody from holding office.

In early 2021, Congress seemed to be on the verge of barring Trump. The House impeached him, with 10 Republicans joining every Democrat in voting to do so. In the Senate, convicting him would have required at least 17 Republicans.

That seemed plausible. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, signaled that he supported impeachment. As people close to him told The Times, McConnell believed that the process would make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the party. Other Republican senators sent similar signals.

Ultimately, though, they backed down. Trump remained popular with Republican voters, and many senators feared confronting him. McConnell played the central role. He delayed the trial until after Trump left office — and some senators then justified their acquittal votes by saying Trump was no longer president.

Seven Republicans, a mix of moderates and conservatives, did vote to convict: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Others who were witheringly critical of Trump in private — like Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio — voted to acquit, making it possible for Trump to become the Republican nominee this year.

So, fear caused Republican senators to stand down when they had a winning hand to play. Fear, plus worry, caused Democratic prosecutors to become frozen in their tracks.  Leonhardt writes:

After the Senate acquitted Trump, the next focus became the criminal investigations of his post-election actions. But these investigations moved slowly.

At the Justice Department, Attorney General Merrick Garland and his deputy, Lisa Monaco, worried that an indictment of Trump would appear partisan and told aides to proceed with extreme caution. Their caution was reminiscent of Robert Mueller’s decision as special counsel in 2019 not to announce a conclusion about whether Trump had broken the law during his 2016 campaign — even after Mueller presented such evidence. In both cases, top prosecutors were hoping to remain above the political fray.

To some Justice Department officials working for Garland and Monaco, this was an impossible goal in today’s political atmosphere. As The Washington Post put it: “Some prosecutors below them chafed, feeling top officials were shying away from looking at evidence of potential crimes by Trump and those close to him.” The F.B.I. did not open a probe into election interference for more than a year, and the Justice Department did not charge Trump until August 2023.

The investigation, as The Times described, was methodical, slow and at times dysfunctional.

The one state prosecution for election interference, in Georgia, has also been chaotic. Last year, Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, filed a sprawling indictment involving 18 defendants, which made a speedy trial impossible. Willis also assigned the case to a lawyer she was secretly dating, causing further delays.

Conservative judges, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, appear determined to let Trump skate on a claim of presidential immunity that has no support in U.S. law. Leonhardt writes:

Even with the Justice Department’s go-slow approach, Trump’s federal trial for election interference had a chance to finish before Election Day, but the Supreme Court intervened. It did so in a way that caused several delays.

First, the justices declined to hear Trump’s appeal — in which he claimed that presidents are immune from prosecution — on the expedited schedule that Jack Smith, the Justice Department’s special counsel, requested. Then the justices did agree to hear the case. And during oral arguments last week, the Republican-appointed majority suggested it would issue a broad ruling setting a new precedent, which could take months.

On their own, each of these decisions can be defended. The overall approach, however, is very different from the one the court took in 2000 during Bush v. Gore. Then, the justices acted urgently, recognizing the political calendar, and said that their decision was a narrow one, applying only to a single election. This time, as Justice Neil Gorsuch put it, they seek a ruling “for the ages.”

Critics have pointed out that in both 2000 and 2024, Republican-appointed justices chose an approach that benefited the Republican presidential nominee. A fast, narrow ruling in 2000 stopped the vote count in Florida and let George W. Bush take office. A slow, broad ruling in 2024 may push the start of Trump’s federal trial past Election Day.

All these decisions — by senators, prosecutors and justices — have played into Trump’s central legal strategy: delay. It’s a strategy he used to fight investigations during his business career, and it seems to have worked again in this campaign.

And in New York: The one trial that has moved ahead — involving Trump’s alleged payment of hush money in 2016 — resumes on Tuesday (4/30/2024).

Related: Trump’s trial could bring consequences for his words. That’s a rarity, Maggie Haberman and Jonah Bromwich write.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Samuel Alito and GOP thugs show in oral argument that they favor Donald Trump over U.S. institutions; how did that happen, and does it involve crimes?

(Francis Chung/Politico)

One might expect that oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) would be high-minded affairs, conducted by justices with razor-sharp minds, cutting to the core of complex, contentious issues. But last week's proceeding on Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity revealed that oral arguments are largely a waste of time, marked by "hypotheticals" that are wildly divorced from reality and muddled logic that could cause a reasonable person to ask: "How did these people get through law school, much less winding up on the nation's highest court?"

The logic of one justice, Samuel Alito, was so nonsensical and shortsighted that Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic, dubbed it "beyond belief" -- and he did not mean that in a good way. Here is how Tomasky summarized Alito's mind-bending performance:

The associate justice’s logic on display at the Trump immunity hearing was beyond belief. He’s at the center of one of the darkest days in Supreme Court history.

Worst of all, Alito joined with his comrades on the court's right-wing majority to indicate they intend to grant Trump some sort of immunity -- a notion that has zero support in American law, has no place in our history, and could end democracy and the rule of law as we have come to know them.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had a firm grip on possible repercussions, which seemed to elude her colleagues on the right side of the bench. Said Jackson, cutting through all the hot air hanging over the session:

If the potential for criminal liability is taken off the table, wouldn't there be a significant risk that future presidents would be emboldened to commit crimes with abandon while they're in office? 

That scenario might have flown right over Alito's head, but it did not escape Tomasky's notice. Under the headline "Samuel Alito’s Resentment Goes Full Tilt on a Black Day for the Court." Tomasky writes:

On the day Donald Trump took office in January 2017, pondering what he might do to the country’s democratic norms and institutions, I wrote these words: “Trump will destroy them, if keeping Trump on top requires it. Or try to. He might not succeed. And that is where we rest our hope—on conservative judges who will choose our institutions over Trump. Mark my words: It will come to this.”

That hope seemed not misplaced back in 2020 and 2021, when a number of liberal and conservative judges, some of the latter appointed by Trump himself, handed Trump 60 or so legal defeats as he attempted to unlawfully overturn the election results. But after Thursday at the Supreme Court? That hope is dead. The conservative judges, or at least most of them, on the highest court in the land are very clearly choosing Trump over our institutions. And none more belligerently than Samuel Alito.

His line of questioning to Michael Dreeben, the attorney arguing the special counsel’s case, was from some perverse Lewis Carroll universe:

Now if an incumbent who loses a very close, hotly contested election knows that a real possibility after leaving office is not that the president is going to be able to go off into a peaceful retirement, but that the president may be criminally prosecuted by a bitter political opponent, will that not lead us into a cycle that destabilizes the functioning of our country as a democracy?

Does anything in our history suggest this is an actual problem? Of course not -- at least until a criminal of Donald Trump's magnitude landed on the American political scene. Since Samuel Alito seems to favor Donald Trump over American institutions, that thought got planted in his brain and spewed out of his mouth. How nutty was it? Tomasky spells that out in clear terms:

Let’s look to something I’d have thought lawyers and judges took seriously: historical evidence. American democracy has existed for nigh on 250 years, and power has been transferred from a president to his successor a grand total of 40 times (not counting deaths in office). On 11 occasions, a challenger has defeated a sitting incumbent—that is, a situation that creates the potential for some particularly bitter and messy post-election shenanigans.

Now, if Alito’s question really spoke to a malign condition that had hobbled American democracy throughout history and that loomed as a real problem that we had to take seriously, it would stand to reason that our history suggested that these power transfers had a wobbly history—that maybe, say, 12 of 40, and four or five of the 11, had been characterized by violence and unusual threats of retribution against the exiting executive.

But what does the record show? It shows, of course, that there is only one case out of the overall 40, and one case out of the more narrowly defined 11, in all of U.S. history where anything abnormal and non-peaceful happened. That, of course, was 2020.

And there was a lot of bad blood in previous transfers of power. You think John Adams loved the idea of handing power to Thomas Jefferson? John Quincy Adams was popping champagne to turn things over to Andrew Jackson? Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, who traded wins, weren’t bitter in defeat? These people couldn’t stand each other. But they did what custom required—a custom never questioned by anyone until Trump came along.

So in other words: Alito throws all that democratic history out the window and treats Trump as the new normal, assuming that the American future is ineluctably strewn with a series of lawless Trumps. Alas, with respect to the Republican Party, there’s a chance time will prove him right about that (but only a chance; my cynicism about the depths to which this GOP will sink is almost limitless, but even I think that Trump is most likely sui generis in this respect, and that your average Republican, even the neofascist ones like Tom Cotton, should we be cursed with a Cotton presidency someday, would probably yield power peacefully if he lost).

But think about what it says about both where Trump has delivered this country, and about Alito’s assumptions about democracy. On the former point: Have we now reached a place where challenges to election results are going to be the norm? Where an opposition party can be counted on to find some legal technicality on which to prosecute a former president, rather than leaving him or her in peace as we have throughout our history?

This is another twisting of reality. Trump, his defenders would protest, is the one former president who has not been left in peace. Well, that is true, I confess. But maybe there’s a reason for it! Actually, there are two. Trump has not been left in peace because a) it was always obvious he was not retired, and b) he’s the only ex-president who tried to foment a coup against the United States of America and who declassified sensitive national-security documents with his beautiful brain.

This is where it becomes clear Alito pulled a scam on the American public in order to secure a seat in the rarefied air of SCOTUS. Tomasky writes:

And on the latter point: When George W. Bush named him to the court in 2005, experts told us—of course—that Alito was conservative, yes, but not an extremist (interestingly, Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald’s sister under whom Alito had worked as a prosecutor, was among those recommending Alito’s nomination). As The New Yorker reported in a 2022 profile, Alito was asked in 2014 to name a character trait that hadn’t served him well. His answer? A tendency to hold his tongue. Well, that problem’s been solved, eh? As writer Margaret Talbot noted of the justice, who ignored Chief Justice John Roberts’ importunings to strike a balance in the Dobbs decision, which he wrote: “He’s holding his tongue no longer. Indeed, Alito now seems to be saying whatever he wants in public, often with a snide pugnaciousness that suggests his past decorum was suppressing considerable resentment.”

And this week, he told us, in essence, that in his view democracy depends on allowing presidents to commit federal crimes, because if ex-presidents were to be prosecuted for such things, the United States would become a banana republic. That’s a Supreme Court justice saying that. And while Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and even Clarence Thomas didn’t go that far Thursday, it was obvious that the court’s conservatives are maneuvering to make sure that the insurrection trial doesn’t see the light of day before the election—in other words, that a sitting president who very clearly wanted Congress to overturn a constitutionally certified election result (about this there is zero dispute) should pay no price for those actions.

When I wrote seven years ago that we rested our hope on conservative judges who will choose our institutions over Trump, trust me, I wasn’t saying I was confident that they would. I was terrified that the day would eventually come. It came yesterday. The conservative jurists chose Trump. It will stand as one of the blackest days in Supreme Court history.

Tomasky, for all of his excellent analysis on immunity, did not dive fully into the swamp that Alito and his right-wing brethren (Thomas, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Roberts) created. (Note: Amy Comey Barrett clearly did not side with Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity and made a number of thoughtful, well-reasoned comments that could help resolve this case. Because of that, we will not include her with the GOP-appointed scoundrels on the bench. In short, the women on the court -- Comey Barrett and the three liberals -- were clear-headed and in line with legal precedent, while the men were dullards who showed the intellect of Homer Simpson's drinking buddies.) 

It's hard to look at the SCOTUS swamp -- with clear signs that the GOP majority intends to craft some sort of immunity for Trump, even though it has no support in American law, and ask this question: Are Alito & Co. engaged in criminal behavior, and if the answer is yes (I believe it is) what crimes might be going on behind the scenes? I would point to obstruction of justice, conspiracy, bribery, honest-services fraud, and voter/ballot fraud. An investigation might unearth evidence of additional crimes. In my view, such an investigation needs to begin immediately, assuming someone in our government has the spine to take up such a controversial task. If someone doesn't, our democracy might be taking its dying breaths.

Friday, April 26, 2024

As hush-money case looks grim for Donald Trump, SCOTUS appears set to gift wrap some form of immunity for him, suggesting the high court is a cesspool, filled with partisan hacks engaged in crimes

Donald Trump and Mary Trump (People/Getty)

David Pecker, former boss of the National Enquirer tabloid,, admitted yesterday  in Donald Trump's New York hush-money trial that he knowingly violated campaign-finance law in an effort to help Donald Trump's run for the presidency in 2016, according to a report at The New Republic (TNR)

The hush-money case, however, was overshadowed by stunning events at the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS), During oral arguments in Washington, D.C., the justices indicated they likely will "gift" Trump with some form of immunity -- even though there is zero support for presidential immunity in U.S. law. Perhaps of more importance, an unlawful grant of  immunity likely means Trump's January 6 election-interference case in D.C. -- and perhaps his classified-documents case in Florida -- likely will not be tried before the November 2024 election. We have written once before that the SCOTUS justices proved, with their Colorado insurrection-case ruling, that they are partisan hacks determined to gift wrap the presidency for Trump. Yesterday's statements from the justices indicate they are corrupt to the core, in a way that many Americans probably cannot conceive. Without a functioning, trustworthy high court, our nation has become an overgrown banana republic. The sad truth is this: We don't know how SCOTUS ultimately will rule on the Trump immunity case, but that they are even considering the ridiculous arguments Trump put before them, is a sign that they are engaged in brazen election theft. That, of course, is a crime -- and in my view -- the justices need to be the subject of a criminal investigation.

Mary L. Trump -- psychologist, author, Donald Trump's niece, and an outspoken critic of her uncle's efforts to reclaim the presidency -- has an excellent overview of today's events, and we will examine that in a bit. But first, let's look at the key moments yesterday in the hush-moeny case, as reported by Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling:

Donald Trump’s old friend-turned-key-witness in his New York hush money trial blatantly admitted Thursday that he violated campaign-finance laws to help the former president’s 2016 campaign.

David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer and former CEO of its parent company, American Media Inc., told the court in Trump’s hush-money trial that he knew he had to obey campaign-finance laws but still failed to report $150,000 to the FEC. That sum came from a payment he issued via Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen to Playboy model Karen McDougal for the rights to her story regarding her alleged affair with Trump.

“We didn’t want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump, or embarrass or hurt the campaign,” Pecker testified.

Pecker claimed he knew that failing to report the payment would skirt campaign-finance regulations due to an earlier catch-and-kill effort that aided Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign for California governor. After Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy, several women came to the National Enquirer with their stories—but even after scooping them up, one story leaked to the press, forcing Pecker to learn he had run afoul of campaign-finance laws.

“Based on what happened 14 years ago, I wanted to be comfortable that the agreement we were going to prepare for Karen McDougal met all the obligations with respect to a campaign contribution,” Pecker said, explaining that his company had consulted an election-law attorney on the matter before signing the contract with McDougal.

The week has been full of admissions by Pecker, who has been offered an immunity deal by the government in exchange for his full cooperation in the Trump trial.

On Tuesday, Pecker admitted that he and Trump had coordinated not just to publish positive coverage of his friend ahead of the 2016 election, but also to publish negative coverage of other presidential candidates. In doing so, Pecker practically admitted to the catch-and-kill media scheme that Trump has repeatedly denied.

Trump had asked “what can I do and what my magazines can do to help the campaign,” Pecker recalled to the court. Pecker had responded that he could “publish positive stories about Trump” and “negative stories about his opponents.”

Trump is accused of using Cohen to sweep an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels under the rug ahead of the 2016 presidential election. He faces 34 felony charges in this case for allegedly falsifying business records with the intent to further an underlying crime. Trump has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Trump appears to be in trouble with the hush-money case, but SCOTUS seems ready to throw his 2024 campaign a powerful lifeline, one that confirms the justices are brazenly crooked. and do not care that they are about to ruin the court's reputation for the foreseeable future, with the American people and our democracy being the ultimate losers.

Let's turn to Mary Trump for a recap of what likely will go down as perhaps the worst day for justice in American history. Mary Trump writes at her Substack page ("The Good in Us") under the headline "The 5 Court Updates You Need to See; Donald: A Supreme Embarrassment":

Today Donald was at the center of another legal whirlwind complete with a split-screen spectacle that surely fed even his bottomless narcissistic need for attention.

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Despite, or perhaps because of, the near-universal blow-by-blow coverage, it was easy to miss some of the more salient details of today’s two proceedings. It is truly mind-boggling that Donald, corrupt to the core, weak, and out of power, continues to garner so much attention. But let’s not lose sight of what this is all about: What unfolded in both courthouses underscores the need for us to fight for and uphold our democratic values, the rule of law, and the Constitution.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court does Donald a massive favor with its immunity  decision—call it an in-kind campaign contribution—but I’ll explain below why it may not matter in the short-term, at least in the context of Donald’s day of reckoning.

Today I counted FIVE major courtroom updates you shouldn’t miss, with the best news at the end:

1. In front of the Supreme Court, Donald’s attorney argues that his client could legally order the assassination of his political rival

During the hearing over “absolute immunity,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked, “If the president decides that his rival is a corrupt person, and he orders the military or orders someone to assassinate him, is that within his official acts for which he can get immunity?” Without hesitation, Donald’s attorney John Sauer answered, “It would depend on the hypothetical but we can see that would well be an official act.” In other words, yes.

Let’s stop and take that in: In front of the Supreme Court of the United States, an attorney in good standing actually argued that the president should be immune from prosecution if he has his political rival assassinated.

Sotomayor said it best:

“I am having a hard time thinking that creating false documents… that ordering the assassination of a rival, that accepting a bribe and countless other laws that could be broken for personal gain, that anyone would say that it would be reasonable for a president or any public official to do that,” Sotomayor concluded. 

 I asked attorney Joe Gallina to comment on the judicial validity of the argument:

“There is absolutely zero legal basis for a president to have immunity for the murder of his opponent. It’s beyond ridiculous and frankly frightening  that  Trump’s team would even suggest it. While the justices will determine where the line exists for the level of immunity, Trump’s heinous arguments makes it all the more clear that his legal position is without merit.”

In a sane country, this case never would have made it to the Supreme Court. It’s a  ludicrous argument being made on behalf of a ludicrous defendant. The concept of immunity itself goes against one of this country’s most fundamental principles: no president, or person in general, is above the law. For so-called originalists to be pretending otherwise is quite something to behold. It is, in fact, sickening.

2. A reminder that the current Supreme Court is corrupt and illegitimate

This hearing was brought as a result of the federal indictment of Donald Trump for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election which centered around his inciting an insurrection against his own government. Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni, was intimately involved in those efforts yet, in his infinite and easily bought wisdom, Thomas has decided he does not have to recuse himself. 

This is a conflict of interest so glaring, so in-your-face offensive, that it’s a travesty we cannot  ignore — it’s a slap in the face to the very concept of judicial impartiality.

The Supreme Court’s code of ethics is supposed to prevent this kind of situation, but, since it’s voluntary and self-administered it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Just as a reminder, from the Supreme Court’s Code of Conduct: 


This isn’t just about one case or one justice; it’s about the integrity of our entire judicial system. If a justice can preside over a case involving an individual who has direct ties to his family, what does that say about our courts? (Answer: It says they are corrupt.) Mary Trump continues:

In my view, at least three of the current justices should not be on the Supreme Court at all – Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. I would argue that all of Donald’s appointments — including Neil Gorsuch — are illegitimate, and Samuel Alito, like his colleague Clarence Thomas, has proven himself to be such a corrupt partisan hack that he also has no place on the nation’s highest court. But here we are, with an illegitimate majority that seems hell-bent on torching the Constitution, while dragging this country back to the 1860s.

We need serious reform, including term limits, an enforceable code of ethics, and greater diversity. But what we need first is to expand the Court by at least four seats as a counter-balance to an out-of-control majority that is completely out of step with the vast majority of the American people.

3. In the short-term, it really doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court rules on immunity

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling on immunity or the extrajudicial reasoning that will no doubt be employed by its corrupt right-wing, Donald’s greatest hope was that a verdict in the January 6th case would be delayed, preferably beyond the election. In that sense, he has already won — with a caveat.

I have absolutely no confidence in the extremist super-majority. The fact that the idea of presidential immunity would be anathema to the founders is irrelevant to them. I wouldn’t put it past them to do something as insane as claim that Donald cannot be held accountable for any of his federal crimes. But even if they don’t go that far, it looks like they are going to delay their ruling to the maximum extent so that it would be impossible for the January 6th trial to start before the election.

But the truth is that, despite today’s debacle in the Supreme Court being a win of sorts for Donald, there’s a lot more going on that is not in his favor. Because no matter what happens at the federal level, and no matter how the Court rules, Donald cannot be pardoned for state crimes.

And because, as is being demonstrated by the prosecution in the New York election-interference trial, the crimes were allegedly committed before he got into the White House. As a result, presidential immunity can’t overturn his conviction either — or stop a guilty verdict before the election.

So, the stakes in these state trials — Georgia, and particularly New York — are incredibly high. But the cases against him are also very strong.

4. David Pecker ends the afternoon with a bombshell

The election-interference case against Donald centers around his alleged involvement in a conspiracy with his attorney Michael Cohen and David Pecker, publisher of The National Enquirer to suppress negative stories about him that might hurt his campaign.

Prosecutors are arguing this was not about keeping embarrassing stories from Melania Trump but, rather, a calculated move to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. 

At the end of the prosecution’s direct examination today, David Pecker, corroborated the state’s entire argument:

Per The Washington Post, Pecker told the jury “that coverup efforts he assisted in were designed to protect the then-candidate’s 2016 campaign, not his family.”

Pecker admitted that he “did not think Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen, his conduit at the time, were aiming to keep the stories of two women — Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels — out of the news to protect wife Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka or any other relatives.”

Pecker told prosecutor Joshua Steinglass that Donald thanked him for burying stories during a meeting at Trump Tower in January 2017, shortly before his inauguration. He further revealed that “neither Trump nor Cohen brought up Trump’s marriage in conversations, that happened over months about how to handle McDougal and later Daniels.”

Instead, Pecker said, “it was basically what the impact would be to the campaign and the election.”

5. The long arm of justice: Donald’s legal quagmire deepens

In the New York case, prosecutors have been constructing a robust case, which the defense has, so far, been unable to challenge effectively. While it seems like this trial has already been going on for a hundred years, Pecker is the first witness and today was, effectively, day two.

We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg and we have another four to six weeks to go, with testimony to be heard, potentially from Michael Cohen, Karen McDougal, and others. But at least the wheels of justice are turning in New York.

And, of course, there is still the possibility that Donald will be found in contempt. This morning, prosecutors entered an additional four instances of Donald having broken Justice Merchan’s gag order and he still has to rule on the first eleven.

The Secret Service has even reportedly begun planning for the possibility of Donald serving time in jail.

Here’s what WE can all do:

The Supreme Court hearing notwithstanding, today brought us one day closer to accountability — and the New York trial will continue outside the reach of Trump’s enablers.

As for SCOTUS, just as millions of women stood up to dismantle the Republican House majority and pass abortion protections in even the reddest states after it overturned Roe v. Wade, it will embolden Democrats to come out in even greater numbers.

We are far from powerless.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to shine a light on these crucial stories. 

As I recently wrote, my quest to stop Donald began in the fall of 2017, when I handed over 40,000 pages of documents to The New York Times, despite the risks.

In the last couple of years I’ve been privileged to be a part of this amazing community. Every day, thanks in large part to all of you, I can dedicate myself to defending democracy.

The key to voter turnout is hope, and I am determined to persuade voters that Donald and the entirety of the Republican Party can and will be held accountable, both legally and at the ballot box.

Are you with me?

Currently, I have 212,640 free subscribers. If just 5% of them contributed the cost of a tall coffee to become a supporting subscriber, I could reach an even larger audience with the hope and inspiration needed to safeguard our democracy. Let’s do this together! 👇

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Thank you to everybody who becomes a supporting subscriber. I can only do this because of YOUR help. – Mary

If you have any upgrade or tech issues, please see my support page. If you’re already a paid supporter, THANK YOU.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Former tabloid boss David Pecker provides insight on a conspirary to hide details of Donald Trump's seedy life, keeping his presidential hopes alive in 2016

David Pecker on the witness stand (The Independent)

The New York criminal trial against former president Donald Trump generally has been described as a hush-money case designed to buy the silence of  porn star Stormy Daniels about an alleged extramarital affair with Trump. Testimony from a former tabloid publisher indicates the case more accurately could be described as a "catch and skill" scheme, involving journalistic and financial chicanery to help hide Trump's ties to Daniels and keep his hopes in the 2016 presidential election afloat.

In earlier testimony, the publisher -- David Pecker, of the National Enquirer -- placed himself at the center of a scheme, which he coordinated with Trump and former fixer Michael Cohen. The goal was to impact the results of the election, in Trump's favor. Pecker is scheduled to return to the stand this morning, and a report from Axios indicates Pecker already has placed Trump at the center of a scheme to alter a presidential election -- putting Trump in legal jeopardy and perhaps adding to the evidence against the presumptive Republican nominee for 2024. Will Pecker's words from the witness stand make things worse for Trump? We could find out this morning. Under the headline "Trump put at center of "catch and kill" scheme by Ex-National Enquirer publisher," Axios' Sophia Cai reports:

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker told jurors Tuesday how he would suppress stories critical of former President Trump and encourage stories targeting his rivals during the 2016 election.

Why it matters: His two-hour-long testimony placed Trump at the center of a deliberate strategy to pay hush money for exclusive rights to any potentially damaging story about him during his first presidential campaign.

  • "I would describe [him] as very knowledgable, detail-oriented," Pecker said when asked by prosecutors to describe Trump as a businessman. "I would describe him as a micromanager [who] looked at all the aspects, no matter what the issue was."

Cai describes some of Pecker's most damaging testimony -- so far. She writes:

What we're watching: Pecker, a longtime friend of the ex-president, detailed to the jury how he met with Trump and Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen in August 2015 and agreed to help his presidential bid.

  • "I said I would run positive stories about Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponent," he said.
  • "I said I would also be your eyes and ears because I know that the Trump Organization had a very small staff."
  • Pecker provided a play-by-play of how he and Cohen — in coordination with Trump — intercepted stories about Trump's alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, as well as an uncorroborated story that Trump fathered a child out of wedlock with a former housekeeper.

The details: Pecker testified that Cohen told him Trump would be willing to take a DNA test to show the ex-housekeeper's story was false, and that "the boss would be very pleased" if Pecker could kill it. 

Pecker's testimony today could be the most riveting moment of the trial to this point, Cai reports:

  • Ultimately, Pecker said he decided to buy the story for $30,000 — a much larger sum than the National Enquirer would usually pay for a celebrity story — "because of the potential embarrassment it would have to the campaign and Mr. Trump."

What's next: Pecker is expected to return to the witness stand Thursday (4/25/24) and provide details on his role in intercepting the story of Trump's alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels.

In essence, Pecker served as Trump's journalistic protector, ensuring that details of the defendant's dysfunctional, seedy life did not reach the public, perhaps providing the advantage that swung a close race against Hillary Clinton in Trump's favor.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Official Day One of Donald Trump's hush-money trial is filled with sordid details and sketchy characters, but irony seizes the day at an event teeming with history

Alvin Bragg, New York DA (Reuters)

On the first full, official day of the Donald Trump hush-money case in New York, prosecutors repeatedly accused Trump of engaging in a scheme to hide an extramarital affair with a porn star in order to enhance his chances of winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In an analysis of the true Day One in the Trump trial, a team of four reporters from  The New York Times (NYT) concluded the clear winner in a proceeding draped in history, was instead, irony.

First, the scheme for which Trump is being criminally prosecuted worked. Despite all the smarmy machinations behind the scenes by a team of sketchy characters. Trump "won" the election, and while we might never know if he was lawfully elected, he did serve in the White House for four chaotic years, and now is seeking to unseat the man who denied him a second term -- Democratic incumbent Joe Biden -- the man Trump blames for every wrong committed against him, except (maybe) the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Second, a guilty verdict would not keep Trump from serving as president. But it might, The Times' team points out, make it harder for Trump to win the election. Reporters David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Jonah Bromwich, and Ben Protess write in The Morning newsletter:

A criminal trial is often a contest between competing stories. In the trial of Donald Trump that’s just begun, prosecutors used their opening statement yesterday to tell a story about a man they say lied — and broke the law — to get elected president.

The prosecutors said that Trump had paid $130,000 in hush money to a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair and that he had then filed false business records to pretend that the money was instead for legal fees. His actions were part of a pattern in which he repeatedly lied to shape his image, the prosecutors said, and it worked: He narrowly won the 2016 election.

The story that Trump’s lawyers offered in their own opening statements had two main features. First, they urged the jurors not to trust the witnesses who will testify against Trump, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who previously pleaded guilty to making false statements. Second, Trump’s lawyers argued that his attempts to affect the election were ordinary politics.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election,” Todd Blanche, one of Trump’s lawyers, said in his opening statement. “It’s called democracy.”

(Note: Here is a link to a piece about the trial's opposing viewpoints of Trump.

Will the case resonate beyond the courtroom? Given it's the first time a former U.S. president has been tried for alleged criminal conduct the answer clearly is yes. From The Times' analysis:

The immediate audience for these dueling arguments is the jury of 12 New Yorkers who will decide the verdict. But there is also a larger audience that will judge the case, of course: American voters.

Trump’s lawyers hope to persuade both the 12 jurors and this year’s voters that his behavior amounted to normal campaign tactics. The prosecutors, overseen by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, want to portray Trump as a man who lied and cheated in ways that had little precedent.

“The case is not — the core of it’s not — money for sex,” Bragg said recently. “We would say it’s about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

A guilty verdict would not prevent Trump from serving as president again. Nothing in the Constitution bars people from office because of a conviction. But if Bragg’s team can persuade jurors of the argument, it may have a big impact on the 2024 campaign.

In recent polls, a meaningful share of Trump’s current supporters say they would be less likely to vote for him if he were convicted of a crime. And because of how slowly the other three criminal cases against Trump are moving, this case may be the only one to complete a trial before the November election.

Will poll results dovetail with results of the criminal trial? We should know in six to eight weeks, the expected length of the trial. We invite you to stay tuned as, one way or another, history unfolds before us.

Here are several Day One highlights, as seen through the eyes of The Times' reporting team: 

(1) David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, was the trial’s first witness. Pecker used the tabloid to suppress damaging rumors about Trump, and prosecutors say that Pecker helped negotiate the hush-money payment at the center of this case. He’s expected to continue testifying when court resumes on Thursday.

 (2) Trump made no outbursts inside the courtroom but shook his head when prosecutors said things he disagreed with. He also appeared to briefly fall asleep, as he did during jury selection last week.

 (3) Trump’s relationship with Stormy Daniels, a former porn star, is crucial to the trial. Trump’s lawyer said yesterday that the two never had sex; Daniels may be called to testify. (Does anyone really believe Trump and Daniels did not have sex? I'm sure they spent their time discussing golfers on the leader board at the tournament -- a celebrity event at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada -- where their liaison allegedly took place. (Stormy, I'm sure, is a golf aficionado. I hear she's a big fan of Rocco Mediate.)

(4) Trump may testify, though a ruling yesterday made it less likely: The judge said prosecutors could ask him about other cases he had lost, including a recent defamation case from the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of rape.