The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Today’s Investigation Fun House News

At least the Joe Biden impeachment clown show in the House seems to be well and truly dead, for the moment, anyway. As in, like, they may start to say, “what impeachment?” At WaPo, Dana Milbank asks, How do you say ‘impeachment is dead’ in Russian?

Clearly, they will take dirt from any source, no matter how dubious. Even then, they have produced nothing that shows Joe Biden was involved in any way in the businesses of his son. Of course, Republicans don’t actually need any evidence to impeach the president, if they have the votes. But even the impeachment ringleader, Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (Ky.), has tiptoed away from this goal. He told a group of us staking out the Hunter Biden deposition on Wednesday that “the purpose of this investigation [is] to create legislation” — legislation to stop “the Bidens from continuing to enrich themselves.”

Wagging two index fingers, Comer admonished: “The American people do not want families to peddle access to the tune of $200,000.” Asked whether his legislation would also target the Trump family, which peddled access to the tune of about $2 billion, Comer ignored the question as he walked away.

See also Republicans Are Basically Admitting the Hunter Biden Deposition Was a Bust at Rolling Stone.  And Philip Bump writes, Hunter Biden gives House Republicans the rebuttal they didn’t want.

At one point, a questioner pressed Biden to admit that there was a suspicious pattern in his father having met people with whom Hunter Biden or his partners ended up doing business. Biden rejected that framing.

“The pattern I see is that you literally have no evidence whatsoever of any corruption on the part of my father,” he said. “And therefore what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to make every single thing in business that I was ever involved in somehow corrupt.”

Of course they are. But I until they find some new tidbit to investigate they may have to stop for a while. I wonder, though, if Hunter will be the new Hillary Clinton, who endured about three decades of investigating, by my count.

Final arguments in the Fani Willis hearings are this afternoon. Maybe we can be done with this sideshow soon and get back to prosecuting people for racketeering.

There’s a hearing today on when the Mar a Lago documents case can begin. Jack Smith is asking for July 8. Recently there were news stories that said Trump wanted to move the Mar a Lago case up to this summer, presumably to interfere with Jack Smith’s case, but now they’re back to arguing that it would be unfair to hold the trial in an election year. I assume Loose Cannon will side with Trump, but we’ll see.

Trump has only one week left to pay the E. Jean Carroll judgment. This is from Forbes:

CRUCIAL QUOTE

Trump’s filing asking to pause the monetary judgment “simply asks the Court to ‘trust me’ and offers, in a case with an $83.3 million judgment against him, the court filing equivalent of a paper napkin; signed by the least trustworthy of borrowers,” Carroll’s attorneys wrote.

CHIEF CRITIC

Trump’s attorneys argued “there is no cognizable risk” of Trump not paying the judgment against him, noting Carroll has previously “concede[d] that President Trump’s resources suffice to satisfy the judgment.” “Having argued to the jury that President Trump has great financial resources, Plaintiff is in no position to contradict herself now and contend that she requires the protection of a bond during the brief period while post-trial motions are pending,” Trump’s lawyers claimed.

FORBES VALUATION

Forbes estimates Trump’s net worth at $2.6 billion as of September. That includes just over $400 million in cash and liquid assets—enough to cover Carroll’s judgment alone, but not his total legal fines when combined with his judgment in the fraud case.

Trump has a long history of being sued for nonpayment and getting away with forcing the plaintiffs to accept pennies on the dollar. He may think he can get away with that in this case. I’m hoping he can’t.

The latest news from Gaza is particularly alarming. This would be the time for the Biden Administration to publicly break with Netanyahu’s government over it’s handling of Gaza. Getting aid to the people in Gaza has to be the priority now.

Trump Admits He Doesn’t Have the Cash!

Bad news and good news. I just heard the bad news, which is that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the Trump immunity claim, which is going to delay the J6 trial, possibly fatally. I’m just hearing this, as I said.

The justices set argument for the week of April 22 to consider a unanimous ruling from a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that rejected Trump’s sweeping assertion of immunity from prosecution.

I haven’t digested the details yet. Now for the good news:

The New York Times reports that Trump admits he doesn’t have the cash to post the civil fraud case penalty.

Donald J. Trump offered a New York appeals court on Wednesday a bond of only $100 million to pause the more than $450 million judgment he faces in his civil fraud case, saying that he might need to sell some of his properties unless he gets relief.

An appellate court judge promptly denied Mr. Trump’s emergency request to halt the financial judgment, but the former president is not out of options. Mr. Trump can try again with a panel of five appellate court judges, which will entertain his request next month.

However that panel rules, the request represented a stunning acknowledgment that the former president, who is racing the clock to secure a bond from a company for the full amount if he does not produce the money himself, lacks the resources to do so. …

… In seeking relief, Mr. Trump’s lawyers disclosed that he would be unable to secure a bond for the full $454 million, raising the prospect that he might soon default on the judgment if the full appeals court denies his request.

He’s trying to get a court to delay the judgment that he can’t do business with a financial institution registered in New York, which is pretty much all of them outside of Russia. He also wants more time to get the money together.

The link should get you past the paywall. This was my last gift article for the month for the New York Times, so take advantage. Anyway, the 30-day clock started ticking on February 23, so he’s going to have a hard time selling and closing on properties in time.

Mr. Trump might eventually be able to secure a bigger bond. His stake in Trump Media & Technology Group, his social media company, could be worth up to $4 billion after a long-delayed merger is made final this year.

No way is that crap Truth Social worth anything. But let’s go on … NY Attorney General  Letitia James has already asked the court to deny the request. And if Trump admits he can’t come up with the money, she can start foreclosing before the 30 days are up, the news story says.

In its own filing, Ms. James’s office asked the appeals court to deny Mr. Trump’s request.

“There is no merit to defendants’ contention that a full bond or deposit is unnecessary because they are willing to post a partial undertaking of less than a quarter of the judgment amount,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Defendants all but concede that Mr. Trump has insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment.”

I want New York to seize the Westchester golf club and turn it into a public park. It looks like it has a really nice swimming pool.

The Daily Beast says AG James accused Trump of sneaking assets into Florida.

Donald Trump is already trying to dodge the colossal $464 million bank fraud judgment, with the former president attempting on Wednesday to appeal the decision without forking over the cash required to challenge the ruling. 

But as Trump’s lawyers claim he doesn’t have the money to appeal without selling a building, the New York Attorney General claimed Trump is quietly moving his assets to Florida. …

… But when the AG raised objections in court documents to the proposal to put up a reduced amount of collateral, Letitia James drew attention to another matter entirely: Trump appears to be trying to move assets out of her reach.

Dennis Fan, a senior assistant solicitor general at the AG’s office, alerted appellate judges at the state’s First Judicial Department that Trump has sneakily relocated business entities from New York to Florida.

“There is substantial risk that defendants will attempt to evade enforcement of the judgment (or make enforcement more difficult) following appeal,” Fan wrote, noting that “after the court issued its February 16 order, defendants announced for the first time that various Trump Organization entities operating in New York are allegedly now located in Florida.”

“As the court recognized earlier in this case, there is unfortunately a distinct need to ‘ensure that defendants do not dissipate their assets or transfer them out of this jurisdiction,’” he continued.

This is just exhausting.

Michigan Primary: Did It Mean Anything?

The Michigan primary showed Nikki Haley losing whatever steam she had. I’ve been thinking she would stay in at least until after Super Tuesday, which is next week, but we’ll see.

On the Dem side, with 95 percent of votes counted, President Biden has 81.1 percent of the vote; uncommitted 13.3 percent; Marianne Williamson 3.0 percent, and Dean Phillips 2.7 percent. Yes, once again we see Dean “no steam” Phillips having a worse night than New Age Snake Oil Saleswoman Marianne Williamson, even after Williamson had suspended her campaign. Unfortunatelly Williamson was so encouraged by her distant third finish she unsuspended her campaign. I’m not sure what she thinks she’s going to accomplish. There will be no Dem primary television debates, which I assume helped her sell a lot of books in 2000.

Josh Marshall has an interesting observation about “uncommitted.”

There’s a significant difference between the breakdown of the primary day and the early/mail vote. The gist is that the primary day vote is significantly better for “uncommitted” and the early/mail vote better for Biden. The net effect of this is that Biden seems to be adding to his margins now since the primary day vote was in most cases getting counted first. So for instance, Dearborn (which is the heart of the state’s Arab-American community) had been like 75% for uncommitted. But now it’s at roughly 55% to 41% as the early votes get counted.

Dearborn is in Wayne County, which currently has 17 percent for uncommitted.

I have a few theories. But they’re just that.

My read of the overall contest is that there was a lot of coverage of an anti-Biden protest vote. That spurred what amounts to a normie-Dem driven counter-protest. That’s what gets you such an overall high turnout. The normies I would guess are more consistent voting Democrats who tend to be higher educated and more affluent. Those folks do a lot of voting by mail and early voting in all elections. The uncommitted meanwhile seems heavily centered in the college towns and perhaps in less consistently voting immigrant communities. It seems plausible that those were more primary day voting groups. Again, this last point is informed speculation.

That’s probably as good an explanation as any, until a better one comes along. I suspect President Biden will need those uncommitted votes to win Michigan in November, so I hope he takes the message they’re sending very seriously. U.S. foreign policy should have gotten tougher on Bibi Netanyahu a long time ago. On many occasions Biden has said with some pride that he has worked with every Israeli Prime Minister since Golda Meir. Some of the young folks who voted “uncommitted” yesterday possibly never heard of Golda Meir and don’t remember when she was a much-loved figure in the U.S. But her days have long passed, and it’s time the U.S. faced that.

In other news: A “star witness” for the Trump lawyers’ side of the contest to disqualify Fani Willis failed to deliver anything approximating “testimony” at a hearing yesterday. How long is this nonsense going to drag on?

Also, too: Mitch McConnell is going to step down from his Senate leadership position in November.

Michigan Tonight

The critical thing about today’s Miichigan primaries is how much of an “uncommited” protest vote Biden will get. And whether Trump continues to underperform his polling numbers. If there are results before it’s ridiculously late I may comment on them. Feel free to comment here also, as usual.

Paul Waldman and Tom Schaller have a new book out called White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy. I’ve just downloaded a Kindle edition and will let you know how it is.

Trump is trying to get out of posting a bond for the E. Jean Carroll appeal. And part of his argument is that he’s too rich to be expected to come up with a bond like some ordinary person. Asking him for a bond is an insult, apparently.

“Having argued to the jury that President Trump has great financial resources, Plaintiff is in no position to contradict herself now and contend that she requires the protection of a bond during the brief period while post-trial motions are pending,” he huffs. “This fact nullifies risk to the judgment creditor and weighs heavily in favor of an unsecured stay.”

He then immediately turns around and argues that, despite his vast wealth, having to post a bond would constitute irreparable injury.

“Here, under this district’s common practice of requiring a bond of 110 percent of the judgment, President Trump faces the prospect of posting a bond of $91.63 million—a sizeable bond which will come with very substantial, non-recoverable financial costs,” he moans. “These costs plainly constitute irreparable injury.”

You can read more about it here. This is truly desperate. Trump’s time is up to appeal this case on March 9. I’m betting he’s figured out he can’t come up with all the money he needs for his appeals without liquidating assets, which everyone will notice and which will reveal maybe he’s not a rich as he claims. See also Trump throws Truth Social tantrum demanding all cases against him “must be immediately halted.”

Update: They’re still counting votes, but it looks like the “uncommited” vote is respectable. This is supposed to be a vote to demand a cease fire in Gaza, and I hope that message is received.

Trump’s Republican Voter Problem

Although the headlines tell us Trump won a huge victory in South Carolina yesterday, I’m seeing commentary saying the results aren’t all good news for him.

Jim Newell, Slate, Trump’s South Carolina Victory Tells Us Some Important Things About His Weaknesses.

 Trump isn’t your run-of-the-mill non-incumbent, is he? He’s a former president with the near-total backing of the new party establishment. He’s about to put his daughter-in-law in charge of the central party organ, because he can. Congressional Republicans quiver at his every utterance.

And still, hundreds of thousands of voters, and a hearty 40 percent of the electorate in Saturday’s primary, voted for his opponent, a supposedly globalist Republican-in-name-only traitor to the cause. He may have all but secured the nomination by running an incumbent’s campaign. But the actual incumbent, won 96 percent of the vote in the South Carolina Democratic primary in early February. I invite you to imagine the punditry had President Biden ceded 40 percent to Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson—or even 10 percent.

Trump underperformed polling with his margin of victory, too. The FiveThirtyEight polling average showed a 28-point Trump lead, and he won by 20. While Trump came fairly close to hitting his projected vote share, Haley’s support was underestimated, suggesting her rigorous campaigning over the last month was effective on the margins. Haley, according to exit polls, won two-thirds of voters who decided this month. Unfortunately for her, only 16 percent of voters decided this month.

Trump’s weaknesses in the exit polls will ring familiar. Haley won independents, those who aren’t evangelical Christians, college graduates, first-time voters, moderates, non-gun owners, and those who oppose a national abortion ban. Among the third of the primary electorate who do not think Trump would be fit for the presidency if convicted of a crime, Haley won 87 percent. This is too much of a moderate, white-collar coalition for Haley to win a Republican primary in the era of Trump. But come November, it’s a bloc that will decide the 2024 election.

Aaron Black, Washington Post:

Given the GOP nominating contest appears to be all but over, the biggest question now might be what the results say about Trump’s general election prospects.

A few exit poll findings stand out.

One is that 31 percent of voters said Trump wouldn’t be fit to serve as president if he’s convicted of a crime. South Carolina becomes the third early state to show that at least 3 in 10 voters said a convicted Trump wouldn’t be fit. (We don’t have data for Nevada.)

Just because these voters say he wouldn’t be fit doesn’t mean they wouldn’t vote for him, but it would surely be a hurdle for at least some voters to get over. And 5 percent of voters voted for Trump but said he would be unfit if convicted.

Another exit poll finding is that a large chunk of Haley’s support was expressly anti-Trump. While about 20 percent of voters picked her and said it was mainly an affirmative vote for her, well more than 1 in 10 voted for her while saying the vote was mostly against her opponent (Trump).

The NORC analysis showed that 35 percent of voters said they would be dissatisfied with Trump as the nominee, and 21 percent said they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election.

At least 20 percent of voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have now said they will not vote for Trump in November.

A major unknown from there is how many of these voters actually mean it — and would otherwise be in the GOP camp. South Carolina allows any voter to participate in the Republican primary. But just 4 percent of voters Saturday identified as Democrats.

Josh Marshall, TPM:

I come at all of this from a somewhat different perspective, I guess. Because there wasn’t a moment throughout 2023, or late 2022 for that matter, when I wasn’t certain Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. We knew that after Iowa and New Hampshire and we know it now. In a presidential election or even a contested Senate race 60-40 is pretty decisive. It’s plenty to make Trump the nominee. But I think we have to be honest and say that 40% of the electorate in a deeply Trumpy state like South Carolina voting against Trump is a huge showing of opposition precisely because the nomination race is effectively over.

It’s fair to say that this is Haley’s home state. She was two-term governor. That must figure into the equation. But 40% isn’t that different from the 43.2% she got in New Hampshire or the 40.3% Haley and Ron DeSantis got between them in Iowa.

I’m not going to speculate what it means for the general election. But this is a lot of persistent opposition for a candidate who has always been running as a de facto incumbent. Even if you set that de facto incumbency aside, it’s quite a lot for a candidate who is, whatever technicalities you want to get caught up in, the presumptive nominee. 40% of Republican primary voters are still showing up to say they don’t want Trump even when they know they’re definitely going to get him.

As for Nikki Haley, as long as she has donations coming in I don’t blame her for not dropping out. Trump’s brain glitches are getting worse. See also ‘Trump appears to be showing gross signs of dementia’: Expert points to new evidence. A lot of that may be just from stress and fatigue, but it wouldn’t surprise me a whole lot if he has a stroke one of these days, If Trump somehow doesn’t make it to election day, she’s positioning herself to claim the nomination. She’s also positioning herself to be a leader of a post-Trump Republican party.

The Trump Sucking Bottomless Money Pit

It may or may not be significant that this week I’ve begun seeing ads for Trump’s Westchester golk club in my Facebook feed. Coincidence? Or is this Trump squeezing every revenue source he’s got? Wikipedia says annual dues are $19,400 a year, which is kind of a budget buster for me, even though it’s a short drive from where I’m living. But he owes the state of New York $454 million, which is racking up an additional $87,502 a day in interest until he pays. He’s gonna have to sell a lot of golf club memberships to cover that. See also ‘Who’s going to do that?’: Trump faces hurdles in securing appeal bond for fraud case.

Update: Actually, the interest is more than $100,000 a day. CBS News this evening:

The judgment in his civil fraud trial was officially entered with the court today — $454,156,783.05 for him alone, plus Trump is now accruing over $100,000 of post-judgment interest each day. 

This is on top of the recent $83.3 million verdict against him in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial.

Judge Arthur Engoron had already denied Trump’s request to delay the judgment for a month to give Trump more time. I’m beginning to think Trump is not going to be able to pay up without liquidating assests.

The Daily Beast has noticed that Trump may be playing fast and loose with campaign finance laws again. He’s stopped refunding most donations that are in excess of allowable limits. “On paper, Trump’s refund rate is virtually impossible. His campaign has not solved this persistent problem of overpayments. His donors are, in fact, breaking the donation limits—dozens and dozens of them, according to the notices that the FEC sent his campaign after every 2023 filing.”

Trump campaign treasurer Bradley Crate acknowledges the excessive donations. He states that the money has since been “returned” to an affiliated committee, which will be “reflected on a subsequent [campaign] report.”

Crate’s answer, it seems, is that the Trump campaign is forwarding the excessive amounts to other political accounts, potentially raising a host of other issues.

But Crate’s explanation, as written, doesn’t seem explicitly true—at least not at the moment.

According to FEC data, the 2024 Trump campaign has never reported sending any money to that affiliated committee, a joint fundraising committee (JFC) called “Trump Save America.” And that committee’s refund rate also appears low—a total $150,000 out of $129 million raised. By comparison, Haley’s JFC refunded roughly $115,000 while raising $20 million. (In 2022, Trump’s JFC returned $42,000, and just $2,500 the year before.)

You’ll need to read the whole article for the details, but it seens the Trump campaign is using creative accounting to just make the excess donations disappear, or at least they are no longer counted as excess donations. He seems to be trying to sneak them past the FEC as new donations.

In Wisconsin, the state ethics commission has asked that Donald Trump’s joint fundraising committee and some Wisconsin state politicians be prosecuted for campaign violation felonies for things done in relation to the 2022 midterms. Trump can’t even stay out of trouble when he’s not running.

And the Associated Press reports that Trump faces warning signs that his fundraising prowess may have limits in 2024 campaign.

Campaign finance reports released this week flashed bright warning lights, showing two key committees in his political operation raised an anemic $13.8 million in January while collectively spending more than they took in. A major driver of those costs was millions of dollars in legal fees from Trump’s myriad of court cases.

The latest numbers offer only a partial snapshot of the Trump operation’s finances because other branches won’t have to disclose their numbers until April. But Trump’s diminished cashflow presents an alarming picture of the overwhelming favorite to be the GOP’s presidential nominee, particularly to would-be donors who aren’t eager to subsidize Trump’s legal challenges.

Trump’s campaign is turning into the Bottomless Money Pit of campaigns. If he gets his way he’s going to drain the RNC of funds as well. Heh.

In other news: House Republicans have scrubbed the Biden impeachment website of all “evidence” obtained from the Russian operative Alexander Smirnov. Which leaves them with, um, nothing. The Biden impeachment effort has pretty much collapsed. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to enough votes to pass a bill of impeachment.

In more other news:  Republicans are scrambling to let America know they aren’t really opposed to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Once again, it’s obvious none of these people ever thought out the real-world effects of “embryonic personhood.” Planned Parenthood explains:

A handful of state abortion bans define life as beginning at fertilization, though they don’t specifically target the process of IVF. Other states are attempting to pass legislation that would grant embryos, fetuses and fertilized eggs personhood rights and in some cases constitutional rights.

Such laws would “pose a concrete threat to the routine practice of IVF,” says Daar. The concern is that these laws deem a frozen embryo a human life and that doing things like genetic testing on it during the IVF process, or discarding it, could become illegal.

“If an early embryo is deemed a person for purposes of legal rights and protections, any action short of transfer to the uterus could be seen as violating its right to life under these new laws,” Daar says.

I understand that it’s standard procedure to genetically test the fertilized eggs before transfering them to a uturus, and the eggs that can’t be used are discarded. And do watch Tommy Tuberville being an idiot.

Speaking of not thinking things through, in Texas a woman with an ectopic pregnancy was denied treatment by a hospital. Another hospital was able to save her life, although barely, after the fallopian tube began to rupture.

(WiFi update: I’m not going to say my wifi problems are fixed, because if I say that the wifi gremlins will know and make it go off again. But I haven’t had any glitches so far today.)

Hunter’s Laptop Bites Back

Let’s start with something cheerful. Ewan Palmer writes at Newsweek that Jim Jordan is in deep trouble.

A number of legal experts and Democratic figures have now suggested Jordan and other Republicans could face consequences if it is found Russian intelligence was the source of the alleged false bribery claims they said justified the impeachment of Biden.

Jordan’s office has been contacted for comment via email.

Tristan Snell, a lawyer and former assistant attorney general for New York state, claimed on X, formerly Twitter: “Jim Jordan, Chuck Grassley, and James Comer were either duped by Smirnov and the Kremlin—or they were in on it.

I’m gong to guess “duped,” becase we are not exactly talking about the sharpest crayons in the box. See also Jim Jordan fact-checked on live TV at Raw Story.

The story thus far, if you missed it, is that (as we learned last week) the Burisma bribery allegations against Joe Biden were entirely false; the informant, Alexander Smirnov, was lying. And now we know that Smirnov was being fed the allegations by Russian intelligence.

David Kurtz, TPM:

The implications of this Russian operation are staggering, especially for the willing Republicans and right-wing media stooges who were the useful idiots propagating the disinformation for years. The James Comers, Chuck Grassleys, Jim Jordans of the world have been trafficking in this stuff as the purported basis for a Biden impeachment, which is itself tightly yoked to Trump’s campaign for re-election. Right-wing outlets, most notably Fox News, have been amplifying the claims not dozens or hundreds but thousands of times over the past several months.

Everywhere you turn, it’s Russia either helping Trump directly or indirectly by damaging Trump’s foes. The pattern is clear and persistent but also so sweeping and far-reaching that it really requires taking a step back to grasp the full scope of it all. It has dominated right-wing media, become an accepted “fact” among MAGA adherents, and allowed elected Republicans to play mainstream media like a cheap fiddle. All those breathless Biden impeachment process stories? They’re an outgrowth of this disinformation campaign.

Useful idiots, indeed.

There’s more going on, but my wifi has been on again, off again for several hours. I’ve got a techie comng tomorrow. I’m going to post this while it’s working.

Grifts and Gullibility: How We Came to This

You may be amused to know that some Trump supporters have started a GoFundMe to help pay for Trump’s half billion in fines.

Elena Cardone, the wife of real estate investor and influencer Grant Cardone, announced a short time later on X, formerly Twitter, that she had started a GoFundMe page to foot the bill. According to Forbes, Trump had a net worth of about $2.6 billion as of September.

The page, titled “Stand with Trump; Fund the $355M Unjust Judgment,” had raised over $18,000 of the $355 million about five hours after it was launched. More than 400 donors contributed between $5 and $1,500 each.

I bet some of those donors need that money more than Trump does.

Digby writes about yesterday’s fraud decision:

This man’s con has been going his whole life. His companies declared bankruptcy 6 times. He’s settled numerous fraud trials before this one, notably the Trump University case. He and his spawn have already been barred from ever running another “charity” in New York after he defrauded little kids with cancer. All of his is well known.

He’s a con artist who is so narcissistic he thought he could become president and nobody would ever be able to stop him. But he lost 66 cases stemming from his bogus claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election. Two women, E. Jean Carroll and Leticia James have now obtained half a billion dollars in damages from his lies, defamation and fraud. Next month we will have the first of several criminal trials that may catch up with him as well.

He’s crying and whining about being persecuted. And his hardcore followers are all Trump sin-eaters who so identify with him that they cannot admit to error either. They voted for him, they supported him they cannot possibly be wrong.

But there must be a few people who are starting to see that they’ve been conned. I hope so anyway or e are living in a country with so many deluded,brainwashed people that even without Trump it’s hard to imagine this country can survive.

Let us reflect on how much the entire political Right of the United States has been a con for a long time. Richard Hofstadter was writing great stuff about this in the 1950s and 1960s. Politicians of both parties do engage in demagoguery, of course. The Republican Party was the party of Joe McCarthy, but back in the day politicians of both parties won elections by stoking fears of Communism and promising to be “tough” on it, although Republicans tended to be worse on that point. But as time has gone on, the Republicans were the ones who won elections by stoking racism, misogyny, and homophobia and running against Affirmative Action and Voting Rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and same-sex marriage, while the real goal was cutting taxes on the rich and protecting the wealth of the wealthy.

Back in 2012 Rick Pearlstein wrote a piece called The Long Con that pointed to all the grifts associated with right-wing publications and websites.

Subscriber lists to ideological organs are pure gold to the third-party interests who rent them as catchments for potential customers. Who better suits a marketing strategy than a group that voluntarily organizes itself according to their most passionately shared beliefs? That’s why, for instance, the other day I (and probably you) got an advertisement by way of liberal magazine The American Prospect seeking donations to Mercy Corps, a charity that helps starving children in the Third World. But back when I was getting emails every day from Newsmax and Townhall, the come-ons were a little bit different.

Dear Reader, I’m going to tell you something, but you must promise to keep it quiet. You have to understand that the “elite” would not be at all happy with me if they knew what I was about to tell you. That’s why we have to tread carefully. You see, while most people are paying attention to the stock market, the banks, brokerages and big institutions have their money somewhere else . . . [in] what I call the hidden money mountain . . . All you have to know is the insider’s code (which I’ll tell you) and you could make an extra $6,000 every single month.

Soon after reading that, I learned of the “23-Cent Heart Miracle,” the one “Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.” (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: “I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,” read one of the testimonials. “I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.”) Then came news of the oilfield in the placenta.

An Israeli entrepreneur was selling shares in his company that must have been promising some miracle cure products made with stem cells in placentas. As you might remember, back then stem cell research was wildly controversial because the most useful stem cells were found in fetal tissue, which smacked into the abortion issue. But this guy had an abortion-free way to harvest stem cells, and a mere $10,000 investment in his company “could bring you a profit of more than a quarter of a million dollars.”  Of course, in 2012 a lot of scientists were already harvesting stem cells from placentas for use in therapies. The Israeli entrepreneur probably was counting on readers of Newsmax and Townhall not knowing that.

Advertisers have long favored right-wing media for snake-oil cures and dubious get-rich-quick and investment schemes like “collector” gold coins. (Survivalist “preppers” are also big consumers of similar dubious merchanise.) Alex Jones by himself made tons of money on nutty conspiracy theories.  There is no left-wing equivalent to this I can think of. See also “On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise.” And Thom Hartmann, The GOP Is the Part of Grift.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post called Live by the Grift; Die by the Grift.

Indeed, there is a whole class of grifters on the Right whose incomes depend on keeping the crazy well fed. I’m thinking of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Fox News et al. No doubt Michele Bachmann will become a full-time gifter as soon as she’s out of the House. But there are tons of second- and third-tier gifters, all cashing in nicely.

And why not? If bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, grifters infest the Right because that’s where the gullibility is. People who can be made to believe in death panels can also be sold on dubious investment schemessurvivalist kits and quack arthritis cures. It’s too easy. …

… The Republican Party set itself up for this, of course, by being willing to sell out anything that might be an actual principle in order to win elections on the cheap (and dirty). I’m sure most of you are aware of the arc of demagoguery that ran from Spiro Agnew to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove. But Frankenstein’s Monster took over the laboratory, and now Karl Rove (who is still making a lot of money, apparently, in spite of his colossal failure in 2012) can’t understand why no one is listening to him.

It’s gotten worse since, of course. Trump is the ultimate con man — so far, anyway — who has overwritten a lot of the old right-wing cons that were at least loosely tied to actual conservative policy goals. The gullible are no longer concerned about aggressive foreign dictators like Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin, because of Trump. The only foreign menace they care about now are the poor Latinos hoping to cross the southern border. What’s left of the “mainstream” Republicans in Congress who do understand it’s important to support Ukraine find that their own party is no longer listening to them.

The righties never seem to notice that jack-booted thugs never come to confiscate their guns or Bibles. They probably never heard that the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, DC, didn’t even have a bsement, never mind one used by Hillary Clinton to hide trafficked children. And that brings us to QAnon. Molly Olmstead qrote a few days ago,

QAnon transformed the political landscape in the U.S., but it doesn’t have the cohesion and power it once did.

“The main accomplishment of QAnon was it got ‘the elites are sacrificing children’ codified as a big, mainstream idea on the conspiratorial right,” Jones said. “That’s firmly in there now.” But there hasn’t been a Q drop (the cryptic messages from the eponymous Q) in well over a year. And now—years into a Biden presidency in which the promises of the coming “storm” of mass arrests of Trump’s enemies failed to materialize—QAnon has been bleeding followers. “The movement has lost a lot of steam,” Jones said.

Strangely, it’s QAnon’s very success that may have made it less relevant. The ideas Q promoted in the movement’s heyday—of the powerful deep state, of the stolen election, of rampant child trafficking—have themselves become standard Republican beliefs, even if the more bizarre details haven’t succeeded beyond the core QAnon community.

“In some ways, the Q people got everyone on their team and didn’t need the trappings of QAnon anymore,” Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory expert and the author of Jewish Space Lasers, wrote in an email.

The Internet lets the crazy spread and evolve into new species of beasts at a lot faster rate than was true back in Richard Hofstadter’s day. And the gullible have all been trained to avoid mainstream media in favor of the likes of OAN and Townhall (Fox is now too mainstream for some of them), where they will hear only what the grifters want them to hear.

If QAnon lost credibility with some of them, maybe there’s hope. But most likely the end of one fantasy conspiracy theory will just be the beginning of several more. The best we can hope for is if Trump and Trumpism are separated from political power, the MAGAts will no longer have to be catered to by the entire Republican Party. We’ll see.

Update: A “recent grift news” link I left out — from Craig Silverman at ProPublica, Right-Wing Websites Connected to Former Trump Lawyer Are Scamming Loyal Followers With Phony Celebrity Pitches.

Ka-BOOM! Trump Just Got Nuked in New York!

Enjoy the New York Times headline in all its glory:

Here’s the link; no paywall.

A New York judge on Friday handed Donald J. Trump a crushing defeat in his civil fraud case, finding the former president liable for conspiring to manipulate his net worth and ordering him to pay a penalty of $355 million that could wipe out his entire stockpile of cash. …

… Not only did Justice Engoron impose a three-year ban preventing Mr. Trump from serving in top roles at any New York company, including his own, but the judge also applied that punishment to the former president’s adult sons for two years and ordered that they pay more than $4 million each. One of the sons, Eric Trump, is the Trump Organization’s de facto chief executive, and the ruling throws into doubt whether any member of the family can run the business in the near term.

In his unconventional style, Justice Engoron criticized Mr. Trump and the other defendants for refusing to admit errors for years. “Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological,” he said.

Here’s the fun part:

Mr. Trump will appeal the financial penalty — which could climb to $400 million or more once interest is added — but will have to either come up with the money or secure a bond within 30 days. The ruling will not render him bankrupt, because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate.

It’s not clear to me that he could get a bond. Note that interest rates will be applied.

I’m watching MSNBC, and they’re explaining that Trump’s New York businesses will remain in business, but won’t be run by anybody named “Trump” or associated with Trump. The state has an interest in maintaining the value of the properties in case they have to be liquidated down the road.

Update: The amount to be paid by all Trumps collectively for the fraud case is more than $450 million, which includes “disgorgement and pre-judgment interest.” He’s yet to come up with the cash or bond to appeal the second E. Jean Carroll suit, never mind the new one. Does he have the cash available to pull this together? Doubtful. He was already on track for a cash crunch by July because of his legal fees. Could he get a bond? Questionable. If he starts selling assets and properties now, everyone is going to know why.

He’s going to try to squeeze the RNC for as much as he can get. His daughter-in-law Lara Trump, whom he wants as second-in-command of the RNC, has declared that “every single penny” of RNC funds will go to Trump if she has anything to say about it. You downballot folks are on your own .

The Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories That Just Imploded

Yesterday’s news was mostly focused on the Fani Willis hearings, which are still going on today. The crew at MSNBC last night was trying to be positive about Willis’s testimony, although some commentary today says the case is now in trouble.

However, while it’s arguable (maybe) that Willis’s conduct might justify some scrutiny by some Georgia state ethics review board, it seems it doesn’t rise to the level of her being diqaualified from the case under Georgia law. According to this article, under Georgia law Willis could only be disqualified if she has a conflict of interest with the case. For example, if she had a prior relationship with a defendant, or with a victim, or has some financial interest in how the case is decided, that would be disqualifying. But I don’t see how anything she’s being accused of is connected to the case itself, or would make any difference to its outcome.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing, as I’m not following the testimony all that much. And I do feel bad for her for having her personal life paraded in public as it is.

In other news, today Rep. James Comer must be hving a sad. His chief and possibly only “credible” source for his Burisma bribery allegations against President Biden turns out to have, um, made it all up. The source was an FBI informant, and Comer and others have been talking about this guy’s testimony and even leaking parts of it for months. That the testimony hasn’t been released is a “cover up,” they said.  So then this happened:

As it turns out, the Justice Department was working on the verifiability of the allegation. On Thursday, it unsealed an indictment: The informant who alleged that he’d been told about the bribe had allegedly made the whole thing up.

At the outset, the indictment summarizes the actions of the FBI informant, a man named Alexander Smirnov. Smirnov, it alleges, “transformed his routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against [Joe Biden], the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties for President, after expressing bias against [Biden] and his candidacy.” …

… The indictment walks through Smirnov’s communications with his FBI handler. In May 2020, Smirnov suggested to his handler that Biden would be “going to jail” over the leak of phone calls between Biden and former Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko — a leak that originated with a Ukrainian lawmaker who had provided information to Giuliani and was later sanctioned by the Trump administration as a Russian agent. Smirnov then said that the information about a bribe to Biden would “soon be in the news” and that he would try to prove it.

Giuliani’s slapdash efforts to dig up dirt on Biden in Ukraine had led then-Attorney General William P. Barr to set up a process for assessing such allegations based out of the FBI field office in Pittsburgh. In June 2020, that office contacted Smirnov about a reference he’d made in 2017 to Hunter Biden.

It was at this point, the indictment alleges, that Smirnov described conversations with Burisma executives during the Obama administration. During a 2016 meeting in Austria, Smirnov claimed, he’d been told by Zlochevsky about the alleged bribe.

But the indictment shows evidence that Smirnov couldn’t have had that conversation with Zlochevsky then. In fact, it alleges, Smirnov “met with officials from Burisma for the first time in 2017, after [Biden] left office in January 2017.” It documents how Smirnov informed his FBI handler about his initial contacts with the company’s executives after that point.

“The Defendant’s story to the FBI was a fabrication,” it alleges, “an amalgam of otherwise unremarkable business meetings and contacts that had actually occurred but at a later date than he claimed and for the purpose of pitching Burisma on the Defendant’s services and products, not for discussing bribes to Public Official 1 when he was in office.”

So with that “evidence” gone up in smoke, as I understand it, Comer’s got nothin’. I assume they will say that the FBI’s version of events is the cover up.

The best part, though, is that now there are calls to investigate Comer.

Also from yesterday, the last shred of “evidence” claimed for the “stolen” 2020 election presented in Dinesh D’Souza’s film 2000 Mules has gone up in smoke as well. The main claim of the film was based on data from the right-wing activist group True the Vote that claimed claimed thousands of people collect and submitted fraudulent ballots in swing states. However,

Georgia officials, who had been under relentless attack in the wake of the 2020 election, demanded that True the Vote turn over whatever evidence or information about informants it had, eventually obtaining a court order for the group to do so. This week, the group’s attorneys responded: There was no such evidence to share.

Oops!

This is not the first time that True the Vote has been caught flat-footed. Officials in Arizona recommended that the group be investigated by the FBI and IRS (given its tax-exempt status) for failing to provide evidence it claimed to have about ballot-stuffing in that state. True the Vote itself promised for months that it would release its data publicly to validate the claims made in “2000 Mules.” It never did.

Again, this is not surprising. The film features True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht and investigator Gregg Phillips prominently and repeatedly, allowing them to allege that they had uncovered this network of ballot harvesters. But Phillips had already burned his credibility on vote-fraud allegations after the 2016 election, when he claimed to have found millions of illegal ballots. (Trump elevated this claim, too.) No such evidence was ever presented, obviously.

D’Souza’s argument depends entirely on True the Vote’s data, as he explained when we spoke in 2022. Much of it was immediately disproved, like the scene in the film where Phillips and Engelbrecht intimate that they had used cellphone location data to solve a murder that, it turns out, had already been solved. The movie relies heavily on video taped at ballot boxes, with Phillips and Engelbrecht providing voice-over commentary to suggest that something shady is going on. But at no point do they show a person at a ballot box matched to geolocation data, the purported evidence on which their allegations rest. In fact, only one map of an alleged ballot harvester’s path is shown in the film. In an email to The Washington Post, Phillips admitted that it was artificial.

In my conversation with D’Souza, I asked him about a scene in which the True the Vote team alleges that someone depositing a ballot in a drop box is taking a photo because it was demanded by his criminal handlers.

“We have this assertion being made by Gregg Phillips about what is happening with this picture being taken,” I noted. “You are saying — and, actually, you haven’t actually said yet — that this came from the whistleblower. Did the whistleblower say that they were paid only if they took photos of the ballots?”

“No, I don’t know that,” D’Souza replied. “I don’t know that because I haven’t talked to the whistleblower. The whistleblower spoke to True the Vote investigators. So I have to admit that my information from that comes from True the Vote and also from the Georgia reports, which I’ve read.”

This is the information that True the Vote now admits it doesn’t have.

Not that this will stop anyone from watching, and believing, 2000 Mules.

In more other news, Russian activist and Putin opponent Alexei Navalny has died in jail. This is tragic. Naturally, some supporters of Donald Trump are now compaing Trump to Navalny. That is comic.