The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Jack Smith Looking at Trump’s “Disloyalty” Fires

The Big Move is almost upon me. I’ll be taking up residence in my new place on June 1.

I understand the House is going to vote on the debt ceiling deal today. It’s expected to pass, but we’ll see.

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan report for the New York Times that Jack Smith has subpoenaed some Trump White House aides in regard to the firing of Christopher Krebs (no paywall). You might remember that Krebs was the administration’s cybersecurity expert who judged the 2020 election to have been “the most secure in American history,” which pissed off Trump.

The team led by the special counsel, Jack Smith, has been asking witnesses about the events surrounding the firing of Christopher Krebs, who was the Trump administration’s top cybersecurity official during the 2020 election. Mr. Krebs’s assessment that the election was secure was at odds with Mr. Trump’s baseless assertions that it was a “fraud on the American public.”

Mr. Smith’s team is also seeking information about how White House officials, including in the Presidential Personnel Office, approached the Justice Department, which Mr. Trump turned to after his election loss as a way to try to stay in power, people familiar with the questions said.

The investigators appear focused on Mr. Trump’s state of mind around the firing of Mr. Krebs, as well as on establishing a timeline of events leading up to the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021. The latest subpoenas, issued roughly two weeks ago, went to officials in the personnel office, according to the two people familiar with the matter. …

…“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised,” the statement from Mr. Krebs’s agency read.

Five days later, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Krebs was “terminated” after releasing a “highly inaccurate” statement about the 2020 election.

It gets better.

Within the Presidential Personnel Office, a small group of Trump loyalists, led by Mr. Trump’s former personal aide, John McEntee, were on a mission to find and fire people perceived as disloyal to Mr. Trump within the federal bureaucracy. And they had fingered the outspoken Mr. Krebs, who had been appointed by Mr. Trump himself, as among the ranks of the disloyal.

Staff members within the personnel office had drafted a document about Mr. Krebs that outlined reasons to distrust him. The memo, first reported by Jonathan Karl of ABC News, detailed a litany of Mr. Krebs’s alleged sins against Mr. Trump, including: “Wife posted a family photo on Facebook with the ‘Biden Harris’ logo watermarked at the bottom.”

Jack Smith is also looking into personnel interactions between the White House and the Justice Department during the time Trump was grasping at anything to overturn the election result.

Is There a Deal? and the Blowup in Texas

There’s a deal. It’s not great. It could be worse. Here are the major provisions. At least it gives us a two-year reprieve from going through this again. And the House Knucklehead Caucus hates it. That’s some comfort.

The Texas House has impeached Texas AG Ken Paxton. You’ll remember Paxton for his lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election, his tireless efforts to keep Texas women barefoot and pregnant, and his many creative excuses for why firearm regulations “don’t work.” So it’s astonishing to me that the Republican Texas House is turning on him. The Texas Tribune explains,

Paxton had faced few political consequences for years for his many public scandals. Allegations against him included taking bribes from a real estate investor, trying to protect that same investor from legal action, abusing the powers of the office and firing staff members who reported his misconduct.

Now the Texas Republicans are bringing up earlier bribery incidents that had escaped their notice, in spite of their being public knowledge. For example,

So asking for tax dollars to clean up one of his messes was the bridge too far. Another interesting complication is that Paxton’s wife serves in the Texas Senate and hasn’t said whether she will recuse herself. Note that one of the charges against Nate Paul is that he allegedly gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton was having an affair.

Pass the popcorn.

Update: See How Ken Paxton Went From Teflon Ken To Being Impeached By His Own Party at TPM.

The Coming Documents Case Indictments

There’s an excellent must-read piece by Philip Bump at WaPo that summarizes everything we know so far about Trump’s hoarding of government documents. No paywall. Here is just a bit.

On Thursday, The Washington Post teased out another aspect of this complicated situation. According to people familiar with the investigation, the government has evidence that Trump’s team practiced moving documents he took from the White House — the implication being that they rehearsed hiding them. Then, shortly before inviting the Justice Department to come pick up a cache of documents, the Trump employees apparently put that practice to use.

This has been the subtext to the investigation from the outset: Trump had things he wanted to keep despite not being authorized to do so. The timeline of events, delineated below, reinforces that idea.

The question, then, is why. What use did they serve? …

… “Prosecutors separately have been told by more than one witness that Trump at times kept classified documents out in the open in his Florida office, where others could see them, people familiar with the matter said,” The Post reported this week, “and sometimes showed them to people, including aides and visitors.”

Here’s a bit of the subsequent timeline, from 2022.

May. At some point in April or early May, Trump and aides reportedly practice moving material that he didn’t want to turn over.

May 11. Trump’s team is served with a subpoena for “any and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings” — notably, not just documents that were actually classified.

June 2. Trump aide Walt Nauta and another Mar-a-Lago employee reportedly move a number of boxes of papers into a storage area at Mar-a-Lago.

That evening, a lawyer contacts the Justice Department and invites officials to come pick up documents responsive to the subpoena.

June 3. Jay Bratt and several FBI agents arrive at Mar-a-Lago to collect the material. They are given a single envelope containing 38 documents. Trump attorney Christina Bobb signs an affidavit asserting, “Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification.”

While there, Bratt views the storage room. Attorneys for Trump reportedly prevent his team from looking in any of the boxes there.

Nauta later helps load an SUV in which Trump would depart for Bedminster, N.J.

We’re way past the point at which Trump could plausibly argue he didn’t know he had government documents he wasn’t supposed to have. We learned from other reporting that Jack Smith has notes from Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran saying that Trump had been told explicitly that he couldn’t lawfully keep the government’s documents from the government. And we have plenty of Trump’s public statements saying that the documents were all his and he had a right to keep them.

The next question is, why did he want to keep these documents? It’s possible he wanted to sell them; please see emptywheel on that point. But I think it’s entirely possible he wanted to keep them as a way to feel connected to the presidency, which he still thinks is his, too. He’s basically a grossly overgrown eight-year-old child, you know. Showing off classified documents makes him look cool. And his warped psychological makeup doesn’t allow for letting go of things that aren’t his, once he’s made up his mind those things are supposed to be his.

Trump will be indicted for obstruction. I don’t see any way that’s not going to happen. The question is, are charges under the espionage act also possible?

So, maybe. Here’s a 2022 article from the Lawfare Blog on the espionage act. This makes espionage act charges seem less likely. But who knows?

In other news: There’s a fascinating story at Politico about the No Labels organization and its plans to produce a “unity” presidential ticket in 2024. Some “moderate” Democrats have objected, saying such a candidate would just split independent voters and make re-electing Donald Trump more likely. Here’s how No Labels responded.

A group of House Democrats with ties to No Labels is turning on the centrist group after it attacked one of their founding members.

On Tuesday, No Labels texted people who live in the district of Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), criticizing the congressman for scoffing at their idea for a unity presidential ticket and claiming it could result in Donald Trump’s return to the presidency.

In its message, No Labels said it was “alarmed to learn that your U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider recently attacked the notion that you should have more choices in the 2024 presidential election.” They called Schneider “out of step” with his voters.

WTF? This mightily pissed off members of the so-called Problem Solves caucus in the House, but not enough for anyone to renounce their membership in No Labels.

I’ve written in the past about how “No Labels” Democrats have worked to undermine much of what President Biden has tried to accomplish. I think it’s likely the people behind No Labels — think  capital management, equity firms, hedge funds — really would like to see Trump back in the White House rather than re-elect Biden..

Today’s News Bits: We’re Better Than Twitter

I’m frantically boxing stuff up and preparing to move it to New York. But I had to say something about the Elon Musk-Ron DeSantis disaster yesterday. How big a mess is Twitter now if even The Boss can’t count on a glitch-free event? And I’m hearing the audience wasn’t exceptionally large. This made Ron look bad, but IMO it’s worse for Elon.

Today the Supreme Court put limits on the EPA’s power to regulate wetlands. SCOTUS really isn’t so much a court any more. It’s more like a House of Lords that makes sure the wealthy and monied get the last word.

There is all kinds of reporting that Jack Smith is wrapping up the Mar a Lago documents investigation and will be bringing indictments soon. This is why Trump’s “lawyers” tried to get a meeting with Merrick Garland, which they won’t get.

Texas AG Ken Paxton is in a lot of trouble.

The Debt Ceiling Abyss Is at Hand

It looks like the debt ceiling impass will go down to the wire. Will Biden invoke the 14th Amendment? One day he says he won’t, the next day he says he’s thinking about it.

Matt Egan at CNN reports that the Wall Street people aren’t worried about default.

Debt ceiling-inspired selloffs have been almost nonexistent. The Nasdaq is still up by a staggering 22% on the year. And CNN’s Fear and Greed Index of market sentiment is nearing “extreme greed” mode.

Perhaps this indifference is because investors have seen this drama before. They know how it ends: with politicians waiting until the last minute before giving in and finally raising the debt ceiling before disaster strikes.

Maybe it’s going to take a stock market plunge to get the tycoons up in arms about it, Egan speculates. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

To complicate matters, Trump has been urging House Republicans to not give an inch. Obviously he wants to destroy the economy so that he can blame Joe Biden and be POTUS again. Any Republican who allows the debt ceiling to rise is going to get slimed by the MAGAs. Although given the results of recent elections, that might not be a bad thing for a candidate.

Ezra Klein, whose opinion I respect, says the 14th Amendment plan won’t work. But Robert Reich, writing in The Guardian, says just go for it already. He recalls that in 1985 Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling only after the Reagan Administration had started to raid the Social Security fund to pay debts. (I did not know this.) And then Reich points out that the crazies running the House aren’t bending at all.

Which is why it’s critical for Biden to continue paying the government’s bills and for the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, to continue using every bookkeeping scheme imaginable to find the means to pay those bills.

They must never declare an “X-date”, and never default.

If Kevin McCarthy and his band of radicals don’t like this, let them take the Biden administration to court.

Let House Republicans argue in the courts that the 1917 act establishing the debt ceiling has precedence over section 4 of the 14th amendment, which requires that the “the validity of the public debt …. shall not be questioned.”

I’m with Reich on this one. But if the 14th is invoked Janet Yellen had better be prepared to borrow money asap before Clarence Thomas and the boys of SCOTUS try to stop her.

Gym Jordan’s Fake Whistleblowers; Debt Ceiling Talks Crash

Republicans walked out of debt ceiling talks this morning, saying the White House isn’t being “reasonable.” I am hoping the White House is seriously considering some 14th Amendment option to just ignore Congress and give Treasury a go-ahead to borrow money as needed to pay debts. Don’t wait for a court ruling; just do it.

Do watch this segment from The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell from last night. He goes on a bit long at the beginning, so if you want to skip the first four or five minutes that’s okay. Just be sure to watch it to the end.

Gym Jordan is running his “protect Donald Trump from facing the law” committee like the petty, pissant tyrant that he is, ignoring House rules and making up his own rules as he goes along. He is trying to freeze Democrats on his committee out of participating in it, obviously. See also Steve Benen, Jim Jordan is inadvertently discrediting his own case against the FBI and Jim Jordan Freaks Out When Dem Confronts Him With House Rules by Justin Baragona at Daily Beast.

Part of Jordan’s problem is that his “whistleblowers” don’t meet the legal definition of whistleblower. He seems to think he can just designate somebody as a “whisleblower” as needed. His FBI “whistleblowers” are ex-employees who were terminated for various misconducts. Nikki Ramirez writes in Rolling Stone,

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) claims he has testimony from “dozens” of whistleblowers who’ve provided him with proof that the FBI is unfairly persecuting conservatives. This doesn’t actually seem to be the case.

The first three of these witnesses whose testimony Jordan received were not really “whistleblowers,” but disaffected former FBI employees receiving financial backing from former President Trump’s ally and advisor Kash Patel. None of them have been given whistleblower protection status by the Department of Justice. 

Jordan held a hearing of the Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on Thursday that featured two of these witnesses. During the hearing, Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.) confronted suspended FBI agent Garret O’Boyle and former agent Steve Friend as to whether they had received payments from Patel. Both admitted they had. …

… Friend was suspended by the FBI after refusing to participate in cases related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He was also one of three agents who had their security clearances revoked by the FBI, in his case for having “espoused an alternative narrative about the events at the U.S. Capitol” and downloading documents to “an unauthorized removable flash drive.” 

During questioning, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D- Va.) displayed tweets from the witnesses espousing conspiracy theories about the Capitol riot, including that undercover federal agents had been responsible for the attack. 

So yeah, it’s a mess.

Score One for the Mouse

This afternoon Bob Iger of Disney announced the company is scrapping a plan to build a $1 billion office complex in Orlando, “costing the state more than 2,000 six-figure jobs,” it says here. One suspects Florida needs Disney more than Disney needs Florida.

More information has come out on Diane Feinstein’s recent medical issues. It wasn’t just shingles. I realize she’s being kept in her position for procedural reasons, but this points to just one more way Senate rules need to be changed. Keeping her in the Senate is bordering on grotesque.

Speaking of grotesque, Josh Hawley’s “manhood” book is out, and the reviews are brutal. I especially like Lloyd Green at The Guardian, Robin Abcarian at the Los Angeles Times, and Rebecca Onion at Slate.

Today’s News Bits

I am temporarily back in Missouri to wind up things here. And I’m trying to keep up with the news. Today CNN reports:

The National Archives has informed former president Donald Trump that it is set to hand over to special counsel Jack Smith 16 records which show Trump and his top advisers had knowledge of the correct declassification process while he was president, according to multiple sources.

In a May 16 letter obtained by CNN, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall writes to Trump, “The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.”

The 16 presidential records, which were subpoenaed earlier this year, may provide critical evidence establishing the former president’s awareness of the declassification process, a key part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents.

The records may also provide insight into Trump’s intent and whether he willfully disregarded what he knew to be clearly established protocols, according to a source familiar with recent testimony provided to the grand jury by former top Trump officials.

I personally think the more incriminating thing was something he said in the infamous CNN “town hall” last week:

When asked why he took government documents from the White House, Trump answered: “I was there and I took what I took. … I had every right to do it. I didn’t make a secret of it. You know, the boxes were stationed outside of the White House.”

Yes, it’s very likely all kinds of people tried to educate him about the classification thing, and he just ignored them. And it appears he still hasn’t figured out why the documents aren’t “his.” Or else he’s trying to hide behind ignorance of the law, but that’s not supposed to be a legitimate defense.

The John Durham’s report on his investigation was released a couple of days ago. Paul Waldman explains that while the investigation was a total flop, the report is a propaganda triumph. It doesn’t matter that Durham didn’t find actual wrongdoing in the FBI investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. But the Right has still been able to spin it to claim the FBI investigation was just political and never should have been started.

I don’t know what’s going on with the debt ceiling, and part of me doesn’t want to know. I just want the thing resolved. Apparently I’m not the only one.

Today’s News Bits, Mother’s Day Edition

For today’s readings, check out How to Raise $89 Million in Small Donations — And Make It Disappear at the New York Times. No paywall. The intro blurb:

A group of conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages. But instead of using the money to promote issues and candidates, an analysis by The New York Times shows, nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves, highlighting a flaw in the regulation of political nonprofits.

Here’s another bit:

About 90 percent of the money the groups raised was simply sent back to their fund-raising contractors, to feed a self-consuming loop where donations went to find more donors to give money to find more donors. They had no significant operations other than fund-raising, and along the way became one of America’s biggest sources of robocalls.

It is not clear why the groups plowed so much of what they raised back into more fund-raising calls; compared with other political nonprofits, their fund-raising expenditures were extraordinarily high.

But one other set of expenditures was especially notable: The groups also paid $2.8 million, or 3 percent of the money raised, to three Republican political consultants from Wisconsin who were the hidden force behind all five nonprofits, according to people who worked for the groups and who in some cases were kept in the dark by the consultants about the finances of the operations.

It’s all about the grift, folks. But those three guys may be feeling a tad exposed right now.

Rolling Stone has a story about Diane Feinstein’s apparent dementia.

Multiple sources tell Rolling Stone that in recent years Feinstein’s office had an on-call system — unbeknownst to Feinstein herself — to prevent the senator from ever walking around the Capitol on her own. At any given moment there was a staff member ready to jump up and stroll alongside the senator if she left her office, worried about what she’d say to reporters if left unsupervised. The system has been in place for years.

“They will not let her leave by herself, but she doesn’t even know it,” says Jamarcus Purley, a former staffer. …

… Purley described office meetings where an issue would be discussed for several minutes, only for Feinstein to bring up the same topic later in the same meeting. Senior staff would then run through the whole conversation again as if they were saying it for the first time, to the discomfort of everyone in the room except for Feinstein. Another witness corroborated this account. 

That last symptom is classic Alzheimer’s. Until it’s very advanced patients retain knowledge they’ve had for a long time, but they can’t remember what they were just told, or even if they were told something. It’s like the brain erases itself in reverse chronological order, most recent stuff first. Repeating the information doesn’t help. Seriously, I can’t believe she’s been allowed to go on like this.

In other news: Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and tireless investigator of Hunter Biden’s laptop, admits he has lost an informant.

During an interview on Fox News, host Maria Bartiromo asked Comer about evidence he had of [President] Biden’s alleged corruption.

“You have spoken with whistleblowers,” she noted. “You also spoke with an informant who gave you all of this information. Where is that informant today? Where are these whistleblowers?”

“Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer replied. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”

“Hold on a second, Congressman,” Bartiromo said. “Did you just say that the whistleblower or the informant is now missing?”

“Well, we we’re hopeful that we can find the informant,” Comer said, explaining the informant was in the “spy business” and “they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot.”

“The nine of the ten people that we’ve identified that have very good knowledge with respect to the Bidens,” he added, “they’re one of three things, Maria, they’re either currently in court, they’re currently in jail, or they’re currently missing.”

Well, that certainly sounds credible.

On the Road

I’m still on the road in New York preparing to move. I still have business to wind up in Missouri and will be flying back next week, but I hope to be living in my new place by the end of this month.

I take it the two big bits of political news this week have been the ending of Title 42 at the border and the fallout from Trump’s Lie-a-palooza on CNN. I’m having a hard time working myself into a xenophobic meltdown over the border. And CNN deserves all the ridicule it has received over the “town hall.” Philip Bump has a good analysis of the “town hall” and whether CNN was justified in hosting it (no). No paywall. And I need a nap.