The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

The Trouble Trump Is In

Bess Levin at Vanity Fair has a handy-dandy guide to all the legal trouble lined up against Trump. (Vanity Fair gives you one free article, and when that’s used up try an incognito window or another browser and you can usually get to read another one.) Here is the list.

*The Classified Document/Mar-a-Lago investigation

*The Justice Department investigation into January 6/plot to overturn the election

*Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis’s criminal investigation into election interference

*The Manhattan District Attorney’s Criminal Case Against the Trump Organization, Etc.

*The New York Attorney General’s Civil Investigation Into the Trump Organization

*The Westchester County district attorney’s Criminal Investigation of the Trump Organization

*The DC Attorney General’s Criminal Investigation of January 6

*The E. Jean Carroll Defamation Suit

*Mary Trump’s lawsuit for defrauding her out of millions of dollars

*The House of Representatives’ January 6 Lawsuit

*The Eric Swalwell Suit over the attempt to stop the Electoral College certification

*The Capitol Police January 6 lawsuits

*The Metropolitan Police January 6 lawsuit

*The Michael Cohen lawsuit

*The Class Action Lawsuit Against the Trump Biz and the Trumps

*The NAACP Legal Defense Fund Voting Rights Lawsuit

*The Trump Tower Assault Lawsuit filed by five people who said Trump’s security assalted them while they were protesting in 2015

I’d forgotten about some of those. All are still pending.

Rolling Stone reports that the FBI is questioning Trump’s National Security Staff about his top secret document alibi.

Two people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone that the FBI has begun asking former Trump administration officials whether they’ve heard of the so-called “standing order” Trump claims to have given. In recent days, the sources say, the feds have sent interview requests to the ex-officials, including former National Security Council personnel. The FBI has asked some of them to visit local FBI field offices to answer follow-up questions concerning the ex-president, classified and highly sensitive documents, and the alleged “order.” That order, Trump’s office insisted last week, dictated that any “documents removed from the Oval Office and taken into the residence were deemed to be declassified.”

CNN reports,

18 former top Trump administration officials tell CNN they never heard any such order issued during their time working for Trump, and that they believe the claim to be patently false.

Several officials laughed at the notion. One senior administration official called it “bullsh*t.” Two of Trump’s former chiefs of staff went on the record to knock down the claim.

“Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given,” said John Kelly, who served as Trump’s chief of staff for 17 months from 2017 to 2019. “And I can’t imagine anyone that worked at the White House after me that would have simply shrugged their shoulders and allowed that order to go forward without dying in the ditch trying to stop it.”

Of course, we don’t know that anyone working for Trump really would have died in a ditch trying to stop Trump from taking secret documents to his residence — I am hugely skeptical, actually — but that’s the story they’re going with now.

Today in Politics

The Alaska and Wyoming primaries are today, and all the preview comments are about Sarah Palin, Lisa Murkowski, and Liz Cheney. The Alaska election is especially complicated, because Alaska recently switched to rank choice voting. I get a sense no one is terribly clear how that’s going to impact the races. See Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight for commentary.

Yesterday we learned that Trump’s clown car team of lawyers had their fingers in a lot of sensitive election data they shouldn’t have been given access to. No real surprise. Lots of people need to face some criminal penalties, though.

And Lindsey Graham and Rudy Giuliani are perhaps even now struggling to be reconciled with facing the Fulton County Georgia grand jury regarding election interference. Will either of them fall on their swords for Trump? Will Rudy be indicted?

Note: I have grandchildren visiting, so posting will be light this week unless something really significant happens.

Why Trump Hoarded Secret Documents

Yesterday the New York Times reported that one of Trump’s lawyers — it didn’t say which one — last June signed off on a declaration that all classified materials in Trump’s possession had been returned to the government. Somebody’s in trouble.

Here’s a sentence that’s so New York Timesy: “The existence of the signed declaration, which has not previously been reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team were not fully forthcoming with federal investigators about the material.” Ya think?

A long article at WaPo, Trump’s secrets: How a records dispute led the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago, is worth reading. It fills in some more details. The National Archives started to nag Trump about missing documents in the spring of 2021, it says. 

People familiar with those initial conversations said Trump was hesitant to return the documents, dragging his feet for months as officials grew peeved and eventually threatened to alert Congress or the Justice Department to his reticence.

This is from the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Trump’s lawyers and representatives have said that they were in negotiations with the government when the FBI showed up and that they have complied with Justice Department requests.

One, it’s been dragging on for well over a year. Two, these were not “negotiations.” This was the government saying “You have things in your possession that should not be in your possession, and you must hand them over now.” No compliance, no negotiation.

WSJ describes Trump’s final days in the White House as chaotic, especially since Trump didn’t begin to prepare to leave until the last minute. So things were thrown in boxes haphazardly. However, much of the classified material was of a nature that it should’t have just been lying around, even in the White House, where Trump could have just thrown in it a box.

Back to the Washington Post:

A Trump adviser said the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term — photos, notes, even a model of Air Force One built to show off a new paint job he had commissioned — are now his personal property, despite a law dating to the 1970s that decreed otherwise.

“He gave them what he believed was theirs,” the adviser said.

“He gets his back up every time they asked him for something,”said another Trump adviser. “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to. He doesn’t like those people. He doesn’t trust those people.”

Former chief of staff John Kelly went on to say that Trump just plain didn’t respect the classification system and thought it was stupid.

We’ve been talking about why Trump was so determined to hang on to those documents. Did he plan to sell them? Might he use them as leverage against people he didn’t like?

But the honest answer may be in that WaPo article — he didn’t want to. He just didn’t want to. Access to classified documents was one of the cool things about being POTUS, and giving them up amounted to an admission he wasn’t POTUS any more. He couldn’t move on. It’s like Miss Havisham refusing to take off her wedding gown and get rid of the moldy cake.

Matt Bai wrote something worth reading

In Trump’s worldview, he acquired the office and the generals and the state secrets, just as he’d once acquired the Eastern Air Lines’ shuttle, and this whole idea that he was privileged to serve was a bunch of deep-state nonsense. …

… So, of course, Trump refused to leave the job until forced, and of course he held on to material that clearly belonged in public hands. When the presidency is an acquisition rather than an opportunity to serve, then everything that comes with it is rightfully yours to do with as you please.

The clock ran out and he lost the office and the swag, and he felt robbed. That was his stuff. He was hanging on to his stuff, because it was his. And let’s be honest; the perks and the swag were all he cared about. The job, not so much. I don’t believe he ever grasped that the presidency is a job. He’s never had a job, you know.

Several times in his presidency he played fast and loose with secret information, sometimes just to show off. For example, in 2017 he was too eager to share intelligence with Russian officials in the Oval Office, for no apparent reason. Who knows how much he shared with Putin in their unmonitored conversations?

David Graham at The Atlantic:

Trump is both an inveterate braggart and a terrible secret-keeper. In May 2017, the same week he fired FBI Director James Comey for refusing to protect him personally, Trump disclosed classified information (reportedly obtained from Israel) to the Russian foreign secretary and ambassador during a White House meeting. In April 2019, he posted a photo of an explosion at an Iranian facility, over the objections of intelligence officials, who worried it would undermine future American spying. Later that year, he blabbed about nuclear systems to the reporter Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s sources were surprised by Trump’s loose lips, but they shouldn’t have been. Trump most likely wasn’t sharing these things because they were national-security matters; he was sharing them because they were secrets he could share. This is, after all, a man who leaked about his own extramarital affair to the press. In any case, the U.S. intelligence community became consistently worried about sharing secret information with Trump, for fear he’d spread it, as Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times notes.

Immediately after the search, WaPo says, Trump was sure the FBI had played into his hands. He planned to use the search to rally people to his side and help him regain the White House. By the end of the week, his mood was darker. “As the week progressed, Trump grew angrier, at times screaming profanities to advisers about the FBI and how they were out to ‘get him,’ people who were in contact with him said.”

He cannot understand that this is, ultimately, not about him.

The Right is still trying to gin up outrage over the search. Now Fox is saying the FBI seized records covered by attorney-client privilege. Somehow I doubt there is any attorney-client privilege where national security is concerned. Fox also says Trump’s lawyers have asked for an independent special master to be appointed to review the documents, and the DoJ said no. I question whether there is any such person who is that “independent” but who also has the highest level of security clearance.

For more on what motivates Trump, see David Atkins, Trump Can’t Envision a Government Less Corrupt Than He Is. “His narcissism is so supreme that he cannot distinguish between personal and institutional loyalty. In his mind, every institution is as corrupt and self-serving as he is.” He doesn’t think in terms of obeying laws or following rules where the security of the nation is concerned. As far as he understands anything, the only reason the FBI would have seized those boxes is that President Biden is out to get him. He can’t grasp any other reason for anybody to do anything.

Have I mentioned lately that the man is colossally stupid?

Trump at Odds With the Espionage Act?

[Update: the House just passed the Inflation Reduction Act. Now it just needs President Biden’s signature.]

I take it the warrant and receipt are out, and — whoa — the warrant mentions the espionage act.

A document attached to the search warrant said the agents were searching for “All physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime and other items illegally possessed in violation of” three laws, including a part of the Espionage Act that the Justice Department describes on its website as a “key national defense and national security” provision. The section cited in the search warrant “applies to activities such as gathering, transmitting to an unauthorized person, or losing, information pertaining to the national defense, and to conspiracies to commit such offenses.”

That sounds pretty serious. You can find the actual search warrant here.

I’m hearing on MSNBC there were four boxes of materials that had been given the highest top secret designation, “TS/SCI.” (Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information) I’m reading that SCI stuff must absolutely never be removed from a “sensitive compartmented information facility.”

Whether any of this touches on nuclear weapons information, we do not yet know.

So Trump had boxes of this stuff in the basement. For a time the basement wasn’t even locked. Then he put a padlock on the door and figured that was fine.

It appears that someone alerted the Department of Justice that Trump had TS/SCI documents that he was still hanging on to, even after being served with a subpoena to turn over documents in June. It appears that the search warrant was more than justified.

Trump issued this statement today:

“Number one, it was all declassified,” Trump said. “Number two, they didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago. It was in secured storage, with an additional lock put on as per their request.”

So, one, none of this had been declassified per normal protocols. His waving his tiny hands over the boxes and chanting “be thou declassified” doesn’t cut it. He can order that documents be declassified, but then the original classifying agency has to complete the process, it says here.

Two, obviously, the government HAD been asking for all documents he shouldn’t have kept, for some time, and obviously Trump was still sitting on them.

Trump has also been claiming that President Obama removed “33 million pages of documents, much of them classified,” and took them to Chicago. But the National Archives (NARA) shot that down. All of the documents of the Obama Administration are properly stored in NARA facilities, they said. Some of those facilities are in Chicago, but a NARA facility is not the Obamas’s basement. “As required by the [Presidential Records Act], former President Obama has no control over where and how NARA stores the Presidential records of his Administration,” NARA said.

This is an interesting bit, reported by Josh Marshall today:

This morning the House Freedom Caucus, ground zero of Trumpism and coup plotting, canceled the press conference they had planned to bewail the FBI search of the ex-President’s home.

Somebody must have tipped them off what was coming.

I’m not hearing from any big-name Republicans yet. Even Josh Hawley, who has been tweeting that Merrick Garland must be impeached, has gone silent today.

More to come, I’m sure.

Merrick Garland Punts the Ball to Trump’s Defense

I’m just now learning that Merrick Garland issued a statement saying that, one, he personally approved the decision to seek a warrant on Mar-a-Lago, and two, the Justice Department filed a motion requesting the Trump warrant and property receipt be unsealed.

I understand the DoJ will also talk to Trump’s lawyers asking if they have any objections to making the warrant and receipt, or the list of what was removed, public. What do you bet the lawyers are going to object? They have been free to make these things public all along, and I notice they didn’t.

Yep, it says here (scroll down) the lawyers are considering filing a motion to challenge the release of the warrant and receipt. They have until 3 pm EST tomorrow to do this.

They don’t want it released, I bet. They just have to come up with some kind of excuse for why releasing it would be unfair to Trump.

And this popped up this afternoon in an article by Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess and Glenn Thrush in the New York Times:

Mr. Trump’s team has declined to disclose the contents of the search warrant. A number of organizations, including The New York Times, are seeking in federal court to have it unsealed.

Some senior Republicans have been warned by allies of Mr. Trump not to continue to be aggressive in criticizing the Justice Department and the F.B.I. over the matter because it is possible that more damaging information related to the search will become public.

Pass the popcorn.

Update:

FBI looked for documents related to nuclear weapons at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

If Trump had secret documents related to nuclear weapons, ours or anybody else’s, he’s toast.

What We Know About the Mar-a-Lago Search

Trump’s very bad week continues. Today he was deposed by lawyers from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office. He took the Fifth.

Today, Trump’s lawyers are claiming that the FBI found nothing incriminating at Mar-a-Lago but also that they planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago.

At WaPo, Philip Bump reviews what we know, and don’t know, about Monday’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago (no paywall). This is worth reading, as it includes a lot of details about what was going on at Mar-a-Lago during the search. In brief: A pack of agents arrived at 9 am. The Secret Service was not told in advance they were coming. There were no guests staying there, and Trump was in New York/New Jersey, so the place was pretty empty.

The lawyers started arriving about 10 am. The lawyers who have seen the warrant verified that the agents were looking for documents, including classified documents, that belong to the government and shouldn’t have been removed from the White House.

The search concluded about 6:30 pm. The agents removed about 12 boxes of materials, most of which had been stored in a basement.

Another good source of information is this timeline by Zach Montague at the New York Times (no paywall). This goes back to the day before Trump vacated the White House. It appears the Justice Department initiated an investigation into Trump’s document violations in April.

Some time last spring, some federal agents, including one involved in counterintelligence, met with Trump and some of his lawyers at Mar-a-Lago. Philip Bump’s article said that at this meeting it was learned a lot of documents were stored in a basement with no security whatsoever. After that meeting, Trump put a padlock on the door, which was broken on Monday. So the searchers knew the documents were there.

A comment I heard repeated on MSNBC last night was that possibly the DoJ obtained a search warrant instead of a subpoena because of national security concerns.

Why would Trump want to hoard secret government documents in his basement? One, incrimination; two, leverage; three, maybe he could sell them for a lot of money.

Another comment I heard on the teevee is that there could be a connection between the seizure of Rep. Scott Perry’s phone yesterday and the Mar-a-Lago documents. Preliminary examination of the documents might have prompted the seizure of the phone. This is speculation, obviously.

So that’s as much as we know right now, I believe.

Update: This morning there were rumors in rightieworld that there must have been an informant. Now Newsweek is reporting there was an informant, according to unnamed government officials.  But I don’t see why an informant was necessary, since the feds already knew Trump was keeping a bunch of White House documents in the basement. The only way this would be significant would be if the informant described some especially sensitive document.

Trump’s Next Move: Bahrain?

There are primaries in four states today — Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Here is Steve Benen’s preview.

This happened today: Trump tax returns must be given to Congress, federal appeals court says in new ruling. The tax returns and related entities must be turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee, the court said.

There is all kinds of speculation sluicing around regarding yesterday’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, including an opinion that the search was really about January 6. I would rather not speculate but wait until we get some solid information.

On the other hand, between the FBI search and the tax return decision, I’m speculating whether Trump will suddenly think up some excuse to be in some other country for a while. If I were him, I’d have lawyers looking up places with nice weather and amenities and no extradition agreements with the U.S.

Paul Waldman:

In his recent speeches, Donald Trump has taken to saying that he is “the most persecuted person in the history of our country.” The millions who lived and died in slavery? Native Americans who endured the Trail of Tears? Sure, they suffered. But did they get kicked off Twitter?

Now that the FBI has executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the former president can indulge what has become his most important impulse, his driving motivation, his very reason for being: to whine and complain.

Heh.

FBI Raids Mar-a-Lago (Updated)

I’m just hearing this. Details to come.

Update: So far, there is little in the way of official information coming from the Justice Department. There is widespread consensus that the search is mostly likely about documents, possibly including classified documents, illegally removed and taken to Mar-a-Lago. Here is the New York Times coverage, outside the paywall.

There is also widespread consensus that this is a big bleeping deal.

Bess Levin writes at Vanity Fair,

As reporter and historian Garrett Graff opined shortly after the news broke: “This is one of the most significant, sensitive, and politically explosive actions the US Justice Department and FBI has ever taken—one of a tiny handful of times it’s ever investigated a president. Bottom line: The FBI & DOJ must’ve known they had the goods.” In other words, there’s a fuck-ton of ketchup dripping down the walls tonight, and this seems 100% plausible:

Bring it on, I say.

Updates:

Trump supporters are calling for Civil War. Yeah, that’ll be over as soon as the meatballs face a line of tanks.

Aaron Blake has a good roundup of the knee-jerk reactions from the Right. Linked without the paywall.

In the News: Voting Machines, Nazi Generals, Dirty Cops

There’s a whole lot of celebrating going on about the Senate’s passing the Inflation Reduction Act bill. It still has to survive the House. I’m hoping the troublemaking “moderates” get the message that this is not the time for grandstanding. Just pass the damn thing without changes, please. Then everybody can go home for August recess, right?

And it’s a bit nauseating to see Joe Manchin being lauded as some kind of hero, when his primary contribution was to extort benefits for his fossil fuel donors in exchange for his support for the bill.

In other news …

This one is complicated. You’ll remember that Michigan was one of the “contested” states in the 2020 election, and Trump supporters in Michigan went on a rampage looking for “evidence” that the votes had been tampered with. As I understand it, some of these supporters persuaded county clerks into giving them access to the voting machines, which was a felony. Investigation into this breach has turned up the name of Kalamazoo lawyer Matthew DePerno, who won the primary to be the Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general.

Politico reports,

DePerno led a November 2020 lawsuit against the state’s Antrim County over an election night tabulation error that was quickly fixed but which Trump and his allies seized on to claim the entire presidential election was fraudulent. Among the evidence that Nessel’s office said it uncovered were digital ID’s matching the seized voting machines which DePerno had used as evidence in that ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit.

Yeah, it looks bad. DePerno is running against the incumbent attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel. Nessel has recused herself and requested that a special prosecutor be named to continue the investigation, since she and DePerno are political opponents.

The big headlines today tell us that while he was president, Trump wanted Nazi generals.

“Why can’t you be like the German generals?” Mr. Trump told John Kelly, his chief of staff, preceding the question with an obscenity, according to an excerpt from “The Divider: Trump in the White House,” by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, published online by The New Yorker on Monday morning. (Mr. Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; Ms. Glasser is a staff writer for The New Yorker.)

The excerpt depicts Mr. Trump as deeply frustrated by his top military officials, whom he saw as insufficiently loyal or obedient to him. In the conversation with Mr. Kelly, which took place years before the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the authors write, the chief of staff told Mr. Trump that Germany’s generals had “tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off.”

Mr. Trump was dismissive, according to the excerpt, apparently unaware of the World War II history that Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star general, knew all too well.

“‘No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,’ the president replied,” according to the book’s authors. “In his version of history, the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military. Kelly told Trump that there were no such American generals, but the president was determined to test the proposition.”

I feel remiss in not mentioning the federal indictments against the Louisville cops involved in Breonna Taylor’s death. There were no state indictments, as the Kentucky attorney general, a Republican, refused to prosecute. There’s a really good article in Slate by Charles F. Coleman Jr. headlined The Most Important Revelation About the Cops Involved in Killing Breonna Taylor. Remember, if you’re out of free articles at Slate, you can still probably read it using an incognito or private window on your browser.

The indictment of the cops that killed Taylor is unique in that it offers the public a peek into typically opaque law enforcement decisions. As the DOJ noted, the “Place-Based Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s home.” To put it another way, the police had no real reason to be at Taylor’s house. They were not acting in the interest of public safety when they broke into her home in the middle of the night without knocking and shot her to death. Instead, the officers who authorized the warrant “knew that the affidavit contained false and misleading statements, omitted material facts, relied on stale information, and was not supported by probable cause.” It was the cops, we now know, not Taylor or her boyfriend, who broke the law and need to be brought to justice.

Do read the whole article; there’s a lot of good commentary in it.

Mini-BBB Bill Passes in the Senate!

The Inflation Reduction Act bill, a.k.a. the Reader’s Digest Condensed BBB bill, passed in the Senate, people. Fifty Dems voted yes, fifty Republicans voted no, and Kamala Harris broke the tie. Woo HOO!

Now it goes to the House, which had better not screw it up.

The next question is, what is still in this bill? One provision that got chopped at the last minute was a $35 price cap on insulin. The cap will still apply to Medicare, but that’s all. As I understand it, the Senate parliamentarian had flagged some parts of the cap as being in non-compliance with reconciliation, and the Republicans used that to take it out..

And that sounds like an issue that could be used against all Republican senators running for re-election.

As described in the last post, the bill isn’t all we could have hoped for regarding prescription drugs.

The prescription drug pricing reforms aim to help cut costs for seniors enrolled in Medicare. It caps their out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 annually, while allowing the U.S. government to negotiate the price of a small set of medicines beginning in 2026. The landmark proposal is expected to save elderly Americans money and achieve billions in savings for Washington over the next decade. Pharmaceutical giants, which forcefully opposed the bill, also would be required to pay “rebates” to the federal government if they raise Medicare drug prices beyond the rate of inflation.

We still would get $369 billion for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy sources. It renews current subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, which were about to expire. It also dedicates some money for staffing up the IRS, a provision that really has Republican panties in a twist.

To get Joe Manchin’s support,

Democrats agreed to mandate new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, while party leaders committed to pursue a separate bill in the coming months that makes it easier for developers to override some environmental objections. That proposal could greatly benefit a long-stalled pipeline in Manchin’s home state, a trade-off that some Democrats described as an uncomfortable necessity.

And to mollify Kyrsten Sinema, they had to dial back proposed tax increases on wealthy investors. Sinema is up for re-election in 2024; I trust we can get rid of her then. We’re stuck with Manchin until 2026.