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.

 

 

The Campus Protests Are Not Helping

The two most significant things that happened yesterday, IMO, were the arrests last night of the Columbia University students and Trump’s Time magazine interview, in which he pretty much explicitly promises to end democracy as we know it if he’s re-elected. For right now I want to address the students and the campus protests.

I confess I am very conflicted about the campus protests. As a veteran of a few Vietnam-era campus antiwar protests I can relate to how the students feel and am supportive of their rights to express themselves. On the other hand, since those long-ago days I have believed the antiwar movement was mostly counterproductive and did little to end the Vietnam War. Yes, there were protests, and the war eventually ended, but correlation is not causation.

I’ve said this before, but here it is again: The antiwar movement’s only real accomplishments, IMO, were the election of Richard Nixon and the re-election of Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War was never hugely popular in the U.S., I don’t believe, but for most of its duration the antiwar movement was even more unpopular than the war. And Richard Nixon made masterful use of the antiwar movement to deflect public criticism of his handling of the war. Without the excesses of the antiwar movement, it’s possible the bleeping war might have ended sooner.

And I think something similar is already beginning to happen with the campus demonstrations about Gaza. I hear people arguing about the demonstrations, not the cause. The cause is getting lost in the noise. And if the purpose of these demonstrations is to promote sympathy for the Palestinian people, they are failing badly.

There have been conflicting accounts about whether there really is raging antisemitism in the campus demonstrations, especially at Columbia. Columbia demonstrators have denied antisemitism and pointed out that they even had a Seder in their incampment a few days ago. It may be that most of the students who have been participating in the demonstrations on the Columbia campus sincerely do not hate Jews. But I’ve been in enough lefty demonstrations to know that there are always a few who, shall we say, don’t appreciate the importance of message discipline.

This is from a couple of days ago, but please do read A Few Thoughts on the Situation in Israel-Palestine and on the Campuses by Josh Marshall. I learned a lot from this.

To me it seems clear that non-students operating on the periphery of the campus have been responsible for the most egregious comments or incidents that almost no one would deny are anti-Semitic. There’s been some of that from students on campus, usually in heated instances when visibly Jewish students are in the proximity of protesters.

But to me these instances obscure a deeper issue. The groups which are spearheading most of these protests — specifically, Students for Justice in Palestine but also others — support the overthrow of the current Israeli state and the expulsion of at least some substantial percentage of the current Jewish Israeli population. This is sometimes talked about as though this is envisioned without people actually being killed at a mass scale or under the pretense that Jewish Israelis have other home countries they can relocate to. But that’s not how overthrowing a whole society works. These views are also embedded in the big chants and manifestos, which you can hear just by turning on your TV.

And a lot of the backstory the students embrace is clearly oversimplified and turned into a simple morality play about the innocent Palestinians and their oppression by the evil Israel. And as part of that, Hamas has been “valorized” as the champions of the Palestinians. But this is a gross misreading of recent history. It’s closer to the truth, IMO, to say that Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition and Hamas are just two sides of the same ugly coin. The black-and-white picture, if you insist on one, is not Israel versus Palestine but people who would allow peaceful co-existence versus people who won’t.

Oslo gets a bad name today. And perhaps that’s fair since it failed. And failure is a bad thing. But we shouldn’t ignore the irony that we have spent the last six months in the grip of Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu. And if you look back at the period from 1993 to 1996, there are two players who destroyed Oslo, as a matter of strategy and design. Netanyahu and Hamas. They both saw it as in their interests to kill it and they did kill it. You can question the good faith of the key actors of both sides of Oslo. But those two are the ones who set out to kill it and did kill it. They have always been, in effect, allies.

Exactly. And it’s also been pretty obvious to most of the world that what’s needed is a two-state solution, not the elimination of one state for the benefit of the other.

Michael Powell writes in The Atlantic that the Columbia students who tried to occupy Hamilton Hall, and were removed by NYPD, had backed themselves into a corner. They had no clear leader and no clear message, other than anti-zionism. When given opportunities to speak to news media, they did not.

Yesterday in front of Hamilton Hall—which protesters had renamed Hind’s Hall in honor of a 6-year-old girl who had been killed in Gaza—organizers of the Columbia demonstration called a press conference. But when reporters stepped forward to ask questions, they were met with stony stares and silence. At the liberated tent zone, minders—some of whom were sympathetic faculty members—kept out those seen as insufficiently sympathetic, and outright blocked reporters for Israeli outlets and Fox News.

The students’ chants were calling for the elimination of Israel and the restoration of all lands to the Palestinians. This goes even further than the position of the Palestinian Authority, which wants to work toward a two-state solution.

By 11 p.m., much of the work was done. The police had cleared Hamilton Hall and carted off protesters for booking. At 113th Street and Broadway, a mass of protesters, whose shouts echoed in the night, and a group of about 30 police officers peered at each other across metal barriers. One female protester harangued the cops—at least half of whom appeared to be Black, Asian American, or Latino—by likening them to the Ku Klux Klan. Then the chants fired up again. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” There was a pause, as if the protesters were searching for something more cutting. “Hey hey, ho ho, Zionism has got to go.”

These are clueless young people drunk on self-righteousness. I’m not saying that of all the student demonstrators around the nation, but the would-be Hamilton Hall occupiers are not helping anybody, especially not Palestinians. But nobody’s behaved well here. From a distance, it looks like Columbia University officials also have made one mistake after another. At least the NYPD didn’t kill or maim anybody, which they might have in earlier times.

I’m seeing that violence broke out on the UCLA campus overnight, also. As with other campus protests, the UCLA students want their university to stop doing business with Israel. In some cases they want the university to stop doing business with corporations that do business in Israel, and with organizations with any ties whatsoever to Israel. I don’t know how many degrees of separation it would take to condemn everyone on the planet, including the protesters, of association with zionism, but I doubt very many.

The UnWise Men Who Need Correction

In trying to digest the events of the past week — with the Supreme Court in particular — I somehow found myself thinking about Bill Barr. Barr, one might have thought, had learned a lesson about giving one man too much power. After the Trump Administration was over, Barr was widely quoted as saying that Trump was a terrible human being who shouldn’t be allowed near the Oval Office. But now he’s endorsed Trump again.

This was at CNN:

“I think that Biden is unfit for office,” Barr said on “The Source” in a wide-ranging interview. “I think Trump would do less damage than Biden, and I think all this stuff about a threat to democracy – I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration.”

Collins pressed Barr – who has been highly critical of his former boss – “Just to be clear, you’re voting for someone who you believe tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, that can’t even achieve his own policies, that lied about the election even after his attorney general told him that the election wasn’t stolen … you’re going to vote for someone who is facing 88 criminal counts?”

Barr began, “Look, the 88 criminal counts, a lot of those are-“

“Even if ten of them are accurate?” Collins interjected.

“The answer to the question is yes,” Barr countered. “I’m supporting the Republican ticket,” he said.

Pressed further on whether he would vote for Trump specifically, Barr said, “Between Biden and Trump, I will vote for Trump because I believe he will do less damage over the four years.”

Barr went on to describe the difference between both parties in stark terms, insisting that the “the threat to freedom and democracy has always been on the left.”

“I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration,” he said.

Let us speak plainly: This is irrational. First, Joe Biden himself for years stayed within the lines of what was acceptably not radical in Washington, however arbitratily those lines were drawn. As POTUS he has leaned more toward his party’s New Deal heritage than he did as senator, but he hasn’t proposed anything unparalleled in American history that I’ve noticed. And even the feared and much ridiculed Squad of the House hasn’t proposed anythng I can think of that puts a gun to the head of American democracy. Not even close.

One can’t say the same for Trump, can one?

I found a story from 2000 that says Barr called the states’ coronavirus restrictions the greatest civil liberties violation in the nation’s history since slavery. This tells me Barr has no concept of what oppression is. To this day I don’t get the hysteria over mask wearing. I can understand people being peeved by store, church, and office closings, but the greatest civil liberties violations since slavery? There was a bleeping deadly pandemic, people. And everyone was subject to the rules. They weren’t just applied to white male pickup truck owners named Bubba. As I kept writing in 2000, in U.S. history there have been similar restrictions applied at local levels many times during epidemics, even if there aren’t many people old enough to remember them.

The conservatives on the current Supreme Court have often expressed concern about executive overreach. Such overreach in their minds includes environmental regulations and student loan forgiveness. But trying to overturn an election is, apparently, just what you do on any given Wednesday. And it’s interesting to me that the right-wing justices wouldn’t listen to the details. This was true in both the abortion and the immunity hearings this week.

Kate Riga wrote at TPM this week that during the Idaho abortion law hearing, the court’s conservatives relentlessly tried to steer the discussion away from real-world examples as the three liberal women on the court kept bringing them up.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor flipped through her notes and told the story of a woman in Florida. 

The woman had experienced a gush of liquid in her second trimester and went to the emergency room.

“The doctors believe that a medical intervention to terminate her pregnancy is needed to reduce the real medical possibility of experiencing sepsis and uncontrolled hemorrhage from the broken sac,” Sotomayor said. “This is the story of a real woman — she was discharged in Florida.” 

Not under imminent threat of death, the woman went home, Sotomayor said. The next day, she started bleeding and passed out. She was brought back to the emergency room where she’d been turned away. 

“There she received an abortion because she was about to die,” she said. 

Sotomayor and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar peppered the arguments with similar, real anecdotes, leaving the conservatives to squirm and sigh with palpable and growing anger

The conservatives were angry. Where was that anger coming from, and to whom was it directed? Idaho medical personnel kept testifying that these days they often helicoptered women out of state for treatment to save their lives, because of the ambiguity of the Idaho law. That would make me angry too, but clearly the anger of the conservatives was coming from somewhere else.

The Court’s conservative wing tried with increasing and atextual persistence to convince listeners that Idaho’s strict ban still allows emergency room doctors to provide abortions to women in varying states of medical distress, and not just when doctors are sure the patient is facing death. They crafted a kind of anti-abortion fantasyland where not only do exceptions work, but that the narrowest ones will amenably stretch to cover all the sympathetic cases. 

They pushed this vision, even while hospital systems in Idaho attest that they are airlifting pregnant women in crisis across state lines, or waiting for them to painfully “deteriorate” before treatment, cowed by the fact that prosecutors could come after them with punishments including mandatory prison time for violating the state ban. 

Clearly, the conservatives have made up their minds that laws such as the Idaho abortion ban must be fair and just, and if those laws are not working it somehow must be the fault of those pesky women and their messy pregnancies. And don’t bother us with the details. You are disrespecting our superior wisdom with the details.

Likewise, in the immunity hearing the conservative justices refused to consider the narrow question in front of them and instead went off on lah-dee-dah discussions of ridiculous hypotheticals. So, sure, in some contexts having a political opponent assasinated or staging a coup to keep yourself in power past your expiration date could be part of a president’s official duties. Seems perfectly reasonable. 

Indeed, Sam Alito actually proposed that a broad immunity might make it more likely that a president at the end of his term would peacefully step aside and not try to stage a coup.

So the same conservative justices who call themselves “originalists” and “textualists” seem poised to create new law unrelated to the Constitution based on their ideas of what’s good for the country. Right.

And what makes it all even more astonishing is that all of this consideration is being given to Donald Trump. It would be one thing if the person being benefited by the court’s concern were some kind of political mastermind, or at least someone with inspiring leadership skills. But it isn’t. It’s Trump. He is nothing but bile and ignorance. He’s a cartoon. This is the guy that all those powerful and allegedly smart men — and it’s mostly men — are trashing their institutions and reputations and principles to defend.

And they seem determined to do this because the alternative is to turn the nation over to … progressives? The real danger to the country? History tells us that the real danger to the U.S. is nearly always from the Right, not the Left, sorry. See Rachel Maddow, Prequel. The plantation owners who gave us the Confederacy were hardly progressive. Nor was the Ku Klux Klan. Any disruptions from left wingers pales in comparision to the real world historical examples.

Does it really come down to privileged White men who can’t stand to have their authority questioned? Even by reality? Because that’s what it looks like.

Watch This Space

Dahlia Litchwick:

On Thursday, during oral arguments in Trump v. United States, the Republican-appointed justices shattered those illusions. This was the case we had been waiting for, and all was made clear—brutally so. These justices donned the attitude of cynical partisans, repeatedly lending legitimacy to the former president’s outrageous claims of immunity from criminal prosecution. To at least five of the conservatives, the real threat to democracy wasn’t Trump’s attempt to overturn the election—but the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute him for the act. These justices fear that it is Trump’s prosecution for election subversion that will “destabilize” democracy, requiring them to read a brand-new principle of presidential immunity into a Constitution that guarantees nothing of the sort. They evinced virtually no concern for our ability to continue holding free and fair elections that culminate in a peaceful transfer of power. They instead offered endless solicitude for the former president who fought that transfer of power.

Posting will be a challenge today because I spilled coffee on the mouse and now it’s not working, and trying to format anything without it is making me crazy. And there’s no place handy to get another one. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Amazon can deliver a replacement tomorrow.

Update: The mouse is working a bit better now; maybe it just needed to dry out more.

I didn’t listen to yesterday’s Supreme Court hearings on Trump’s immunity, but the reviews have been devastating. Josh Marshall writes The Court is Corrupt. Say It With Me.

Everything comes into conceptual alignment if we understand the Court’s corruption: corrupt in its construction, corrupt in its jurisprudence, venally corrupt as well, though that is the least of its problems.

On this show I still saw people saying things like, “I hope this isn’t the case.” “I hope I’m wrong.” Don’t hope you’re wrong. This just leaves us still in some hunt for the silver lining in the Court’s corruption. Or even worse, this undermines faith in the Court. No. We don’t want to shore up faith in a corrupt institution.

We are where we should know we are. The Roberts Court is a corrupt institution which operates in concert with and on behalf of the Republican Party and to an ambiguous degree right-wing anti-regulatory ideology. If we believe in a different set of policies or even democratic self-governance we will have to succeed at that with the Supreme Court acting as a consistent adversary.

That’s the challenge in front of us. It sucks. But things become more clear cut once we take the plunge and accept that fact. Swallow it whole.

And, of course, Steve M. is right here:

If the Supreme Court gives Trump partial immunity, which seems very likely, he’ll say he was given “absolute immunity.” He’ll say this over and over again, often in all caps, the way he used to repeat “no collusion,” and at least 45% of the country will believe it’s true.

— Steve M. (@stevemnomoremister.bsky.social) Apr 26, 2024 at 7:03 AM

This underscores both the absolute necessity to win in November and then for Congress to add at least four to six justices to the Court. After that they can begin impeachment of Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito. If this isn’t done, even if Trump disappears we’re still going to be in a hard fight to keep our democracy.

Update: Jonathan Last, The Bulwark: Conservative Legal Theory Was All a Lie, Too.