Cohen Cross-Examination and Other News

Michael Cohen is still being cross-examined today. As far as I can tell, the defense may be planting some reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds. However, it’s also the case that there is lots of corroboration for the prosecutor’s case. There’s very little Cohen has said on the stand that isn’t backed up, somewhere. They didn’t need him to testify to the facts but to tell the story of how the facts came together.

And as Maggie Haberman commented, “At the same time, prosecutors have and will demonstrate in closing arguments that Trump has told lies, big and small, about a number of people and issues in this case.”

So far, no “Perry Mason moments,” I don’t believe.

Update: Aaron Blake writes at WaPo that roughly half of the general public doesn’t believe the trial is “a sham.”  “Polling has consistently shown that Americans, while somewhat skeptical of the proceedings, are not adopting Trump’s claims of persecution,” Blake writes. “And in fact, there is now some evidence they could be moving in favor of the prosecution.”

In other news: There’s a new development in Israel. Yair Rosenberg writes at The Atlantic that The Israeli Defense Establishment Revolts Against Netanyahu. In brief, the IDF is fighting Hamas in areas that had been cleared on Hamas weeks ago. The military people are blaming Netanyahu for not allowing some kind of Palestinian government to be established.

In a televised address yesterday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant—a former general and current member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party—publicly rebuked the government for failing to establish a postwar plan for Gaza. He then demanded that Netanyahu personally commit to Palestinian governance for the enclave, as opposed to Israeli settlement or occupation.

“Since October, I have been raising this issue consistently in the cabinet, and have received no response,” Gallant said. “The end of the military campaign must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’s rule.”

Without such a political strategy, Gallant argued, no military strategy can succeed, and Israel will be left occupying Gaza and fighting a never-ending counterinsurgency against Hamas that saps the country’s military, economic, and diplomatic resources. “Indecision is, in essence, a decision,” he said. “This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza. This is a negative and dangerous option for the state of Israel.”

See also Josh Marshall.


Biden/Trump Debates Are Scheduled

The Biden and Trump campaigns have agreed to two debates. I had mixed feelings about a Trump-Biden debate until I read this:

Mr. Biden and his top aides want the debates to start much sooner than the dates proposed by the organization, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so voters can see the two candidates side by side well before early voting begins in September. They want the debate to occur inside a TV studio, with microphones that automatically cut off when a speaker’s time limit elapses.

And they want it to be just the two candidates and the moderator — without the raucous in-person audiences that Mr. Trump feeds on and without the participation of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or other independent or third-party candidates.

I don’t know if the Trump people have agreed to that, but if those are non-negotiable terms, I say go for it. The provision about mics being turned off when it’s the other guy’s turn to speak is especially important, since Trump won’t shut up. The debates are set for June 27 on CNN and September 10 on ABC. The Presidential Debate Commission had scheduled a debate for September 20, I believe, but early voting will have begun before that in some states. Plus, I read in Politico, President Biden was not happy with the way the Commission ran the 2020 debates, especially by allowing Trump to talk incessantly over both Biden and the moderators. And Trump, of course, complains that the Commission is “biased” against him.

And I hope CNN and ABC do a better job than they did in the Democratic nominee debates in 2020. I remember not being happy with those.

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden believe firmly that if the American people get a look at their opponent on a debate stage they will be less likely to vote for them.

The Biden side opened the negotiations. I am not surprised. Trump has been saying many mangled and incoherent things at his rallies, but little of that is reaching the public. They’re both capable of misspeaking, but if I had to bet which one will make an utter fool of himself while speaking, unfiltered, directly to the American people, my money is on Trump. I agree with Digby:

Trump is convinced that Biden is such a doddering, drooling old fool that he’ll fall asleep during the debate. (This is rich considering that it’s actually drowsy Don who’s falling asleep every day in court.) His entire campaign is predicated on the idea that Biden is so ancient that he can’t run the country like the vital, virile superman Donald Trump. And yet, whenever the country tunes in to watch Biden fall off the stage he actually does quite well and Trump whines that he was on drugs.

Biden needs to be seen by a national audience right now to prove that this is all crap. It’s ridiculous but between the Republicans, the mainstream press and Biden’s lack of bronzer, hair dye and Aquanet he’s seen by the public as much older than Trump despite the fact that they are actually the same age — and Trump is the one showing signs of dementia, not Biden.

Of course, it’s still possible Trump will not agree to the terms. I’m sure he will want his mic kept open and would prefer an audience of his supporters to cheer him on and boo President Biden.

The Trial Continues

Trump’s lawyers are now grilling Michael Cohen. No blow-ups so far, but the crew at the New York Times believes Todd Blanche is trying to goad Cohen into one.

The prosecution has announced that Cohen is their last witness. They had one more lined up, a publisher, but decided they didn’t need that person. Most of the rest of the trial week probably will be Trump’s lawyers beating up Michael Cohen. And then it’s the defense’s turn to make a case for itself, if it’s going to. I haven’t heard if they plan to call witnesses or just rest without a defense, which they are allowed to do. So this trial could possibly wrap up next week.

Trump Nap Watch Update: Susanne Craig of the NY Times writes, “As Michael Cohen testifies, Trump has dropped his head repeatedly and appears to be struggling to stay awake.”

Trump Goon Squad Update: Reuters has a special report on threats of violence from Trump supporters. See Trump blasts his trial judges. Then his fans call for violence.

It’s Michael Cohen Day in the Manhattan Trial

I’m following Michael Cohen’s testimony at Talking Points Memo and The New York Times. (No paywall.) I like the Times for following trials because they update very frequently. Maggie Haberman just posted this:

It’s remarkable that Trump currently has senior elected officials, including a possible future vice presidential nominee, sitting in this courtroom listening to a recording of the former president, as a candidate, talking with his lawyer about paying for material from The National Enquirer. It underscores how completely Trump has gotten the party in his grip since those moments in September 2016 when this tape was made.

The “possible future vice presidential nominee” is J.D. Vance, who is sitting in the courtroom live-tweeting, or I guess it’s Xing now, stuff about how it’s all a sham and poor Trump is being railroaded. He’s sitting behind Eric Trump, who is also Xing. The Times is covering the Xs.

Michael Cohen’s testimony is being accompanied by reminders to the jury about how past witnesses such as David Pecker said the same thing. The prosecutors also re-played a recording of a conversation between Cohen and Trump. My impression is that they want to remind the jury that they’ve got the receipts and that everything Cohen is saying can be corrorborated. I’m sure they anticipate the defense will try to tear Cohen apart as a liar.

I will update if anything interesting happens.

Update: First, Trump Nap Watch. Jonathan Swan reports that “Trump’s eyes are closed and he appears to be sleeping, as he has through most of today.” Forbes has a timeline of Trump naps.

Probably anticipating what the defense will do on cross, the prosecutors are getting out in the open that Michael Cohen was angry at Trump for cutting a promised bonus in 2016. In fact, a big sub-context of a lot of the testimony is all about Trump stiffing people. The reason Michael Cohen was acting as go-between and making all kinds of arrangements to pay David Pecker to “catch and kill” the Stormy Daniels story was that Trump had stiffed Pecker in the past. Pecker wouldn’t do anything without the money up front, and Trump wasn’t opening his wallet quickley enough. That put Cohen on the hook to scrape money together he didn’t have.

Joe Biden Draws a Red Line

So President Biden has had enough. He says he will stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it launches a major invasion of Rafah.

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas,” Biden said.

Biden said while the US would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel, including for its Iron Dome air defense system, other shipments would end should a major ground invasion of Rafah begin.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said. “But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to – we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

Already, the US has paused a shipment of “high-payload munitions” due to Israel’s possible operations in Rafah without a plan for the civilians there, according to the Pentagon, though it said a final decision on that shipment hadn’t been made. The administration has said it is reviewing the potential sale or transfer of other munitions.

Israeli officials reacted with anger, CNN says, but I wonder if any of them have considered the position they’ve put President Biden in, never mind the United States? Republicans in Congress are furious, also, since they don’t seem to have a problem with the starvation and massacre of Palestinians.

As usual, I learn a lot from reading Josh Marshall:

Let me note that it’s not crazy to want to attack Hamas in its final hold out. Israel went into this war with the goal not of eroding but destroying Hamas’ military capability. Rafah is where they’re holed up. If you still want to destroy their military capacity you need to finish Hamas off there.

But of course that’s not the only thing going on. There are a still an undetermined number of hostages who desperately need to be freed. There is a cataclysmic number of Gazan civilians who have already been killed. There is a huge reputational hit Israel and the United States have already taken over all of this. Then there’s the touch and go issue of keeping the rest of Gaza’s civilian population from dipping into famine. There’s vastly more aid going in now than there was a month ago. But it takes mountains of food to feed over 2 million people. Final point: precisely because the Netanyahu government consistently refused to devise any plan for who would administer Gaza on the day after, Hamas operatives have streamed back in to much of the strip and are already, at least partly, reasserting some control. So the gain to be had in a final fight with Hamas in Rafah — quite apart from the potential vast sacrifice in human life — has already been significantly diminished by decisions Netanyahu made to cut off the possibility even of movement toward a Palestinian state. In other words, yes, Netanyahu made a bigger priority of avoiding even the medium-to-long-term possibility of Palestinian state over destroying Hamas.

After October 7 I read in several places that Netanyahu had long tended to undercut the Palestinian National Authority in favor of Hamas, which makes no sense unless you consider that Netanyahu and Hamas agree on one thing — they’re both opposed to a two-state solution.

Well, we’ll see how this goes.

In other news: Trump lawyer Susan Necheles is grilling Stormy Daniels to trip her up, trying to discredit her story. Necheles is also trying to get Daniels to admit she’s been trying to capitalize on her story of The Encounter with Trump. I’m not sure what the point of this is, though. Daniels’s motivations are not the issue here. A lawyer arranged for her to get money for her story; that much is not in question. The trial is about how she was paid. From what I can tell from the New York Times live feed, Daniels has been holding her own.

Beware the Perfect Storm

There is no court in Manhattan today, but I understand Stormy Daniels will return tomorrow for more cross examination. The best thing I’ve read about her testimony yesterday is by Jeremy Stahl in Slate, which begins,

On Tuesday, the main event of Donald Trump’s criminal trial swept through the courtroom as the woman at the center of the hush money scandal, Stormy Daniels herself, showed up to testify against the former president. Trump previewed that it would be a big day when he posted on Truth Social—and then deleted—his apparent frustration that she was being allowed to testify. But the emotional intensity of having the woman at the center of this scandal describe her sexual encounter with Donald Trump that led to his arrest 17 years later—in front of the former president and his son, Eric, who was also present—is hard to describe.

There was a heaviness in the air, even if the former president’s main reaction to Daniels’ testimony was—as he’s done throughout the proceedings—to simply close his eyes. (Longtime Trump reporter Maggie Haberman wrote for the New York Times that an adviser told her Trump does this to “keep from blowing up,” adding that on Tuesday, he was “looking like his face is going to crack from tension.”)

I can’t know how the jury took this in, but Trump probably didn’t help himself when he started cursing and shaking his head. As I remember, the judge decided that he didn’t want the E. Jean Carroll sexual assault brought up during this trial, but the jury had just heard testimony on the infamous Access Hollywood tape. From that it would seem logical to conclude that Trump is sexually manipulative, at least. Noah Berlatsky wrote in Public Notice,

On the stand, Daniels provided ugly details about how Trump treated her, and about how Trump treats, and views, women. These insights are notable, but they’re not new. In 2016, leaked audio of Trump making grotesque and sexist comments about women to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush almost derailed his presidential campaign. Last year, Trump was held liable for sexual assaulting and then repeatedly defaming advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

But Daniels’s testimony is a reminder that contempt and mistreatment of women is a core theme of Trump’s life and politics. Both the press and Democratic opponents have struggled to make this issue central to 2024, even though abortion rights and women’s health care are the key issues of the campaign. It’s unclear whether the trial will spark more reporting and discussion of Trump’s treatment of and attitudes about women. But it should.

Daniels received some criticism for adding details that went beyond what she was asked, but as someone said on MSNBC last night, Daniels was telling her truth. This was a painful memory, and she was telling it in the way she knew how to tell it.

In other news: RFK Jr. says doctors found a dead worm in his brain. This explains a lot.

In more other news: There is now a lot more reporting on the pause in arms shipments to Israel. This is from NBC News:

The United States halted a large shipment of offensive weapons to Israel last week in a sign of its growing concern over a possible military offensive on Rafah, senior administration officials told NBC News.

The decision comes as President Joe Biden pushes for Israel and Hamas to compromise and reach a cease-fire deal that would head off a large-scale assault on the city in southern Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering in dire conditions.

The New York Times reports that the director of the CIA is to meet with Netanyahu in Israel this afternoon. Otherwise, nobody’s talking.

Possibly the Biggest News: Yesterday Loose Cannon put the MAL documents case on indefinite hold. It’s just too complicated for her, or something. I think most people had long already written off any possibility of this case being tried before the election, and Loose has pretty much nailed that shut. But last night on MSNBC Neal Katyal tried to look on the bright side. Had the documents trial gone forward this summer, he said, it might have delayed the J6 trial, which might still happen if the SCOTUS gets in the mood to kill Trump’s immunity case before it’s too late to hold the trial. This comes under the heading of “not holding my breath,” but whatever.

Recently grand jury testimony related to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was unsealed. Some right-wing websites have seized on this testimony as “proof” that the FBI rigged the documents scandal. I have looked at some of their “arguments,” and they amount to a sensational headline about FBI rigging mounted over several paragraphs of word salad. But righties don’t read, so the headline is persuasive enough. It is an article of faith among Trump supporters that Trump was entitled to hoard nuclear secrets in his basement, and the Biden administration is making some BFD over it just to make Trump look bad.

Marcie Wheeler has an excellent commentary today headlined How We Got to a Place Where Right Wingers Cheer Stealing Nuclear Documents. I am not going to quote it here; just read the whole thing. But I’m thinking now of a book published about three years ago that I haven’t read, just heard about, called It Was All a Lie by Stuart Stevens. Stevens is a former consultant for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney who came to realize that all of the principles he thought the Republican Party stood for were just marketing slogans. And most people still in the party won’t admit what’s happening.

This self-deception extends to other areas, notably foreign policy, in which “the Republican party has gone from ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ to a Republican president who responds to Vladimir Putin like a stray dog, eager to follow him home”. All without much protest from those who know better.

Stevens believes Donald Trump “just removes the necessity of pretending” Republicans care about social issues. Instead, it’s all about “attacking and defining Democrats”. The idea that “character counts”, so prominent in earlier decades, is forgotten.

In short, stripped “of any pretense of governing philosophy, a political party will default to being controlled by those who shout the loudest and are unhindered by any semblance of normalcy”. The first casualty is the truth. “Large elements of the Republican party have made a collective decision that there is no objective truth” and that a cause or simple access to power is more important.

Rather than saying the sky is green, the new strategy is “to build a world in which the sky is in fact green. Then everyone who says it is blue is clearly a liar.” 

Remember when the GOP marketed itself as the “party of ideas”? Even then they were mostly ideas about zombie policies held over from the McKinley Administration, but they were ideas nonetheless. Now they don’t even have that. The whole party has given itself to promoting and defending Donald Trump, a ruined caricature of a human being who through a perfect storm of circumstances stumbled into the White House and took over leadership of the party.

The conditions that created the storm have been building for a long, long time. But here we are. The courts are compromised; the House of Representatives is dysfunctional; several state governments are already trying to “fix” the election system to help Republicans stay in power; news media on the whole are doing a piss poor job warning people of what’s really happening. We’re all hanging by a thread here.

Well, have a nice day.

Storms All Around

Stormy Daniels began her testimony today, and I take it she annoyed Justice Merchan this morning by being too gossipy. But I don’t know that she has to establish anything for the jury other than the, um, alleged encounter really happened.

Politico is reporting more about Israel weapons holdup.

The Biden administration is holding up shipments of two types of Boeing-made precision bombs to send a political message to Israel, according to a U.S. official and six other people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The U.S. has yet to sign off on a pending sale of Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions — both the munitions and kits that convert them to smart weapons — and Small Diameter Bombs, according to six industry and congressional sources with knowledge of the discussions.

While the Biden administration has not formally denied the potential sale, it is essentially taking action through inaction — holding off on approvals and other aspects of the weapons transfer process — to send a message to Israel, a U.S. administration official familiar with the process told POLITICO. The official, along with others, was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

There’s no reported progress on a cease fire agreement I can find. Israel appears to still be beginning its assault on Rafah.

In Manhattan and Gaza, Baby Steps

Today in the Manhattan Trump trial the prosecution is talking to Trump organization accountants who handled the checks that went to Michael Cohen. This money was coming from Trump’s personal account.  From what I can tell, the testimony is showing that checks meant to reimburse Cohen for “hush money” payments were on the books as payments for legal services. The heavy lift is still going to be tying this to election interference.

Before the trial restarted the judge slapped Trump with another contempt of court citation and another threat to toss him in jail if he doesn’t straighten up.

There may have been some progress toward a cease fire in Gaza. Or not. The Associated Press:

Israeli leaders have approved a military operation into the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, and Israeli forces are now striking targets in the area, officials announced Monday.

The move came hours after Hamas announced it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari cease-fire proposal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that the proposal was “far from Israel’s essential demands,” but that it would nonetheless send negotiators to continue talks on a cease-fire agreement.

The terms of this proposal have not been made public.

Over the weekend, there were news reports that the U.S. had put a hold on a shipment ot ammunition to Israel. Israeli officials said the shipment was stopped last week. The U.S. government has not issued any statements about this. We do know that the U.S. has told Israel that if it continues with its operation into Rafah, U.S. policy toward Israel could change. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is bravely declaring that if Israel has to stand alone, it will.

My suspicions are that there’s a lot going on between Netanyahu’s government and the Biden Administration that we don’t know about but is probably far from amicable.

At the other, far end of the Stupid Scale, we have Republican senators threatening the International Criminal Court.

A group of influential Republican senators has sent a letter to International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan, warning him not to issue international arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, and threatening him with “severe sanctions” if he does so. 

In a terse, one-page letter obtained exclusively by Zeteo, and signed by 12 GOP senators, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz of Texas, Khan is informed that any attempt by the ICC to hold Netanyahu and his colleagues to account for their actions in Gaza will be interpreted “not only as a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States.”

“Target Israel and we will target you,” the senators tell Khan, adding that they will “sanction your employees and associates, and bar you and your families from the United States.”

Rather ominously, the letter concludes: “You have been warned.”

The Constitution really does give Congress the power to declare war, but I’m pretty sure they’d need a majority vote in both houses to do so. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, dudes.

How Much Will the Protests Bleep the Election?

The Democrats had to have their convention in Chicago this year.  Now I’m reading that they anticipate massive protests during the convention. And I see the Wall Street Journal is running a story headlined Activist Groups Trained Students for Months Before Campus Protests. I can’t read it behind the subscription firewall, but I’m betting it’s reporting on alleged ties to Antifa and Black Lives Matter and probably Communists. Maybe even George Soros.  It’s all part of the Left-Wing Conspiracy to destroy Jesus, you know.

On the other side of the scale, see It Was a Trap by Justin Peters at Slate.

There was probably a bit of all of this working on New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik when, a few months ago, she hauled various university presidents into Congress, insisted that certain student protesters’ use of the word “intifada” and phrase “from the river to the sea” directly equated to calls for genocide, and then watched them fumble their responses in truly embarrassing fashion.

The subsequent resignations of the presidents of Penn and Harvard, respectively, were unforced errors on the parts of highly educated people who, first, should have more directly challenged Stefanik’s partisan premises, and, second, should have probably realized that the en voguecampus notion that speech sometimes equates to violence would eventually be co-opted by right-wingers eager to exploit campus unrest for their own political gain. (I’m often reminded of how, back when the rise of the social web was leading a lot of otherwise-smart people to profess that the internet would soon bring about a state of digital utopia, the writer Evgeny Morozov kept making a very trenchant point that almost nobody wanted to hear: Bad people know how to use the internet, too.) The scalps of Liz Magill and Claudine Gay were nice trophies for the ambitious Stefanik, who is rumored to be in contention for Donald Trump’s vice presidential slot. But the hearings and subsequent leadership turnover also helped to promote the narrative of widespread chaos on campus—a narrative that’s a boon to Republicans in an election year.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to this as I probably should have.

At Politico, Jeff Greenfield writes Don’t Forget the Backlash to the ’60s.

Most media retrospectives of the 1960s celebrate the marchers, the protests, the peace signs along with the compulsory Buffalo Springfield lyrics (“There’s something happening here/ But what it is ain’t exactly clear”). The reality is those upheavals were an enormous in-kind contribution to the political fortunes of the right. And if history comes even close to repeating itself, then the latest episode will redound to Donald Trump’s benefit.

Much of the political landscape of the past 50-60 years was formed by the backlash to the civil rights and antiwar movements, IMO.

And speaking of that, see John McWhorter, The Columbia Protests Made the Same Mistake the Civil Rights Movement Did. I tend to think of the Civil Rights Movement as the “good” protesters, but McWhorter reminds us that it got weird.

What happened this week was not just a rise in the temperature. The protests took a wrong turn, of a kind I have seen too many other activist movements take. It’s the same wrong turn that the civil rights movement took in the late 1960s.

After the concrete victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, a conflict arose within the movement between those who sought to keep the focus on changing laws and institutions and those who cherished more symbolic confrontations as a chance to speak truth to power.

The conflict played out most visibly in what became of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC began with grass-roots activism in the form of sit-ins and voter registration, but in 1966 John Lewis, a veteran of the Selma demonstrations who spoke at the March on Washington, was replaced as the group’s leader by Stokely Carmichael, who spoke charismatically of Black Power but whose political plans tended to be fuzzy at best. The term “Black Power” often seemed to mean something different to each person espousing it. It was, in essence, a slogan rather than a program.

This new idea — that gesture and performance were, in themselves, a form of action — worried the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who regarded some of the group’s demonstrations as “expressions of rivalry and rage, without constructive purpose,” according to the historian Taylor Branch.

IMO this nails it:

In our times, when the personal is political, there is always a risk that a quest to heal the world morphs into a quest for personal catharsis.

As I wrote in the last post, the campus protesters don’t seem to have a unified message or goals. They are concerned about the Palestinians in Gaza, but nothing they are doing is helping the Palestinians in Gaza in any way. The young folks need to stand down, or at least re-think what it is they want.

In other news: As near as I can tell, the prosecutorsi are doing a masterful job in the Manhattan “hush money”/election interference case.