Cup of Joe – April 7, 2023

“Former top national security officials have testified to a federal grand jury that they repeatedly told former President Donald Trump and his allies that the government didn’t have the authority to seize voting machines after the 2020 election,” CNN reports.

“Chad Wolf, the former acting Homeland Security secretary, and his former deputy Ken Cuccinelli were asked about discussions inside the administration around DHS seizing voting machines when they appeared before the grand jury earlier this year, according to three people familiar with the proceedings. Cuccinelli testified that he ‘made clear at all times’ that DHS did not have the authority to take such a step.”

The highlights of the new reporting from CNN:

“Chad Wolf, the former acting Homeland Security secretary, and his former deputy Ken Cuccinelli were asked about discussions inside the administration around DHS seizing voting machines when they appeared before the grand jury earlier this year, according to three people familiar with the proceedings.”

“Trump’s former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, in a closed-door interview with federal prosecutors earlier this year, also recounted conversations about seizing voting machines after the 2020 election, including during a heated Oval Office meeting that Trump participated in, according to a source familiar with the matter.”

“Now some of those same officials, including Wolf, Cuccinelli and O’Brien, as well as others who have so far refused to testify, may have to return to the grand jury in Washington, DC, to provide additional testimony after a series of pivotal court rulings that were revealed in recent weeks rejected Trump’s claims of executive privilege.”

Twitter added a warning to NPR’s Twitter account on Tuesday, declaring it as “state-affiliated media,” a label that’s typically been reserved for foreign media outlets that represent the official views of the government, like Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua, Forbes reports.

“In an hourlong interview ahead of a European diplomatic mission to Beijing, China’s ambassador to the European Union said that critics had misinterpreted his country’s relationship with Russia, and suggested their ties may not be as limitless as their leaders once declared,” the New York Times reports.

“On Oct. 14, a Russian engineer named Gleb Karakulov boarded a flight from Kazakhstan to Turkey with his wife and daughter. He switched off his phone to shut out the crescendo of urgent, enraged messages, said goodbye to his life in Russia and tried to calm his fast-beating heart,” the AP reports.

“But this was no ordinary Russian defector. Karakulov was an officer in President Vladimir Putin’s secretive elite personal security service — one of the few Russians to flee and go public who have rank, as well as knowledge of intimate details of Putin’s life and potentially classified information.”

“Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen gathered alongside a bipartisan group of House lawmakers Wednesday outside of Los Angeles, projecting a united democratic front that brushed aside stern warnings from China that the meeting not go forward,” Politico reports.

“The high-profile confab, which occurred at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, marks a concrete step in furtherance of one of McCarthy’s top priorities: pushing back on the influence of China. McCarthy becomes the highest U.S. official to meet with Taiwan’s leader on domestic soil since the U.S. established formal diplomatic ties with China in 1979.”

Punchbowl News: “This was McCarthy’s first big foreign-policy foray as speaker. But it was also a chance for him to prove that, on one of the most vexing contemporary global challenges, lawmakers can show a united front.”

Politico: “Beijing’s current aversion to sustained high-level engagement underscores the particularly fraught nature of U.S.-Chinese relations over the past few months. What was a two-sided desire to stabilize an increasingly volatile relationship is becoming much more about Washington reaching out and the Chinese government demurring.”

“Former vice president Mike Pence will not appeal a judge’s ruling that requires him to testify in front of a grand jury exploring the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, a spokesman said Thursday, likely setting up a pivotal moment in the special counsel investigation related to former president Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election,” the Washington Post reports.

Given all of Mike Pence’s public puffery on this to date, seemingly in service of his own personal political ambitions in 2024, I’m a bit surprised by how quick and complete his climbdown is: Pence will not continue to resist on Speech or Debate Clause grounds a grand jury subpoena in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 investigation.

Pence recently won a narrow carveout not to testify about some things related to his quasi-legislative role as president of the Senate, and he won’t carry that fight any farther. Meanwhile, President Trump fought the Pence subpoena on executive privilege grounds and lost, meaning Pence is free to testify about things related to his executive branch role as vice president. It’s not clear yet whether Trump will appeal that decision.

(One caveat: The court orders in both disputes remain sealed because they’re part of grand jury proceedings, so what we know about them is based on largely anonymous accounts from those directly involved in the case.)

“The Tennessee House voted on Thursday to expel two Democrats from the state legislature one week after they interrupted debate by leading protesters in a call for stricter gun laws in the wake of a shooting that left six dead at a Christian school,” the New York Times reports.

“The extraordinary punitive action against the Democrats — Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson — for an act of protest marks just the third time since the Civil War era that the Tennessee House has expelled a lawmaker from its ranks and threatens to further inflame the partisan rancor within a bitterly divided state.”

“An effort to expel a third Democrat, Representative Gloria Johnson, who had stood by the two men in the front of the chamber and joined in the chants during the protest, fell short by one vote.”

She said the reason whe was spared was because she was white.

“With the stroke of her pen, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repealed an unenforceable Michigan law Wednesday that makes it a felony to administer most abortions with no exception for rape or incest,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

A day after being arraigned in a Manhattan courtroom on state charges, former president Donald Trump said Wednesday that the Republican-led Congress should “defund” the Justice Department and FBI “until they come to their senses,” the Washington Post reports.

“Transgender women and girls in Kansas will no longer be allowed to compete on sports teams from kindergarten through college consistent with their gender, after state lawmakers on Wednesday overrode a veto from their governor to enact the restriction,” CNN reports.

“At least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the United States since the start of the year — a new record,“ CNN reports.

“That’s already more than twice the number of such bills introduced all of last year.”

ProPublica: “These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.”

The Delaware judge in the landmark Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox case said in a Wednesday hearing that he would not block the expected forthcoming subpoenas for the trial testimony of Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch.

It sets up an amazing potential witness list for the trial scheduled to begin April 17:

  • Rupert Murdoch
  • Lachlan Murdoch
  • Tucker Carlson
  • Sean Hannity
  • Lou Dobbs
  • Maria Bartiromo
  • Jeanine Pirro
  • Bret Baier
  • Dana Perino
  • Paul Ryan (Yes, that one! He’s on the Fox board.)
  • Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott
  • Fox chief legal officer Viet Dinh

I say “potential” witness list because not all of these people may ultimately testify if the case goes to trial AND the case may yet settle. The clock is ticking … 11 days and counting.

Jim Rutenberg: “Dominion is now arguing in its seismic defamation lawsuit against Fox that the network had by then made its choice: It would amplify a lie to maintain its audience. Dominion is now seeking $1.6 billion in damages from the news network and its parent company in a defamation trial that — barring a settlement — is scheduled to start in Delaware this month. (Smartmatic is also suing, seeking $2.7 billion, with a trial date pending. In both cases, Fox is arguing that its actions are protected by the First Amendment.) Losses in either or both cases would represent a big hit to the balance sheet of the  Fox Corporation, which reported a net income of $1.2 billion in 2022. But the case is about matters more existential than Fox’s bottom line.”

“Dominion’s pretrial court filings have already provided a rare look inside the company’s decision-making process throughout the election crisis that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection. The president the network favored was promoting a lie — that Democrats were illegally seizing power through pervasive, systemic voter fraud — to stay in office. That lie excited and angered his supporters, and many of those supporters were also Fox’s core audience. Violence was in the air, the fate of democracy up for grabs. If ever there was a time for Fox News to live up to the journalistic promise still embedded in its name, it was then.”

New York Times: “The witness list for the Fox News $1.6 billion defamation trial now has more big names than a prime-time lineup.”

“Supporters of Confederate monuments and other historical markers could sue over the removal or destruction of the displays, under a proposal moving forward in the Florida Senate,” the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Florida lawmakers want to bring the “hammer” down on “bad actors” in the property insurance industry, and they are moving quickly to send a new legislative proposal to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Politico reports.

The push comes just three weeks after Donald Trump accused DeSantis of bailing out the politically-powerful industry and said the governor had “crushed homeowners” following Hurricane Ian.

“Ron DeSantis has found a new rhetorical target as he prepares for a potential presidential bid: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell,” the Miami Herald reports.

“In press conferences and speeches across the country, Florida’s Republican governor has begun to single out Powell — often by name — for criticism, arguing he has wreaked havoc on the economy and shown favoritism to wealthy investors.”

“Six hours after a New York judge warned former President Trump he could be penalized for any remarks that endangered others, Trump stepped to a microphone in Florida — and practically dared the judge to do just that,” Axios reports.

“Trump was somber in court, but after flying back to Mar-a-Lago he unleashed a rambling, bitter attack that singled out Merchan and his family — hours after Trump’s elder son, Don Jr., had tweeted a story with a photo of Merchan’s daughter.”

Benjy Sarlin: “Media spectacles require tinder, sparks, and a constant supply of fresh logs to keep the fire burning. This one doesn’t have it. As the charging documents made clear, almost all of the facts were established by 2018. The next court date is in December, an eternity away, and the actual trial could easily end up delayed.”

“Nor is this a story that partisans on either side are especially eager to try and force back into the news. There’s a visceral desire among Democrats to see Trump held accountable for his alleged crimes, but almost none of it has been focused on the Stormy Daniels affair. The White House is keeping silent. Left-leaning legal experts in the press are waving their audiences away from what they regard as a weak case.”

Jed Handelsman Shugerman: “Tuesday was historic for the rule of law in America, but not in the way Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, would have imagined. The 34-count indictment — which more accurately could be described as 34 half-indictments — was a disaster. It was a setback for the rule of law and established a dangerous precedent for prosecutors.”

“This legal embarrassment reveals new layers of Trumpian damage to the legal foundations of the United States: Mr. Trump’s opponents react to his provocations and norms violations by escalating and accelerating the erosion of legal norms.”

“The case appears so weak on its legal and jurisdictional basis that a state judge might dismiss the case and mitigate that damage. More likely, the case is headed to federal court for a year, where it could lose on the grounds of federal pre-emption — only federal courts have jurisdiction over campaign finance and filing requirements. Even if it survives a challenge that could reach the Supreme Court, a trial would most likely not start until at least mid-2024, possibly even after the 2024 election.”

Washington Post: “Willis has not spoken publicly about Trump’s criminal indictment in New York, and a spokesman declined to comment. But close observers of Willis believe the New York case is unlikely to change the legal trajectory of her more than two-year investigation into alleged election interference in Georgia, a case that has already drawn intense public scrutiny and political attacks from Trump even before any potential charges have been filed.”

“The case in New York is likely to add to that scrutiny — even as many legal experts believe the case in Georgia is more perilous to Trump. However she decides to proceed, Willis will have to sell her case not only to Atlanta-area voters but to the broader American public at a volatile moment when public sentiment about a potential Trump prosecution could be shaped by the Manhattan legal proceedings.”

“In the currency of today’s attention economy, Donald Trump is the world’s richest man,” the AP reports.

“His media-engulfed arraignment in New York was an out-of-court Exhibit A. In returning to the no-business-like-show-business metropolis that propelled him to tabloid-fodder fame so many years ago, the former president also returned to the very stage where he thrives the most. As he did so, even in an atypically sedate manner, he demonstrated the peculiar way he encounters the world — as luminary and aggrieved party rolled into one.”

“Love him? Hate him? Don’t care? Doesn’t matter. Just like during his presidency, he commands notice. Still. Thousands of New York City police officers, the U.S. Secret Service and swarms of journalists deployed across lower Manhattan can all attest to that.”

Tom Nichols: “What’s interesting, however, is how the explosion of rage we’d all waited for—and that Trump both demanded and expected—has been, so far, more like a grumble than a shout. Turnout in front of the New York courthouse has been contained, despite the arrival of the professional sedition booster Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

“Writing this off as a ‘blue state’ issue is easy, but New York is full of MAGA folks not only upstate but also closer to Manhattan in Staten Island and the super-red districts of Long Island, as well as some redoubts just north of the city such as the exurban Dutchess County. If New York’s Trump brigades wanted a big turnout, they’re only a short drive, subway ticket, or bus ride away.”

Stephen Collinson: “There were two big things to fear before Tuesday’s momentous first criminal arraignment of an ex-president of the United States.”

“The first was that while Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case might cite solid evidence of alleged wrongdoing by Donald Trump, his legal theory might prove too vague, complex and seem like too much of a throwback to a 7-year-old election to be an easy sell to the public.”

“The other was that Trump would respond with such fury and incitement that he would rip even deeper divides in a nation estranged by his aberrant presidency and stoke new turmoil that could further damage vital political and judicial institutions.”

“Both of those worst-of-all-worlds scenarios came true on a day that Trump described as ‘SURREAL’ in a social media post sent as he motorcaded to court to turn himself in. The result is that another grim and even tragic chapter may lie ahead for a country that is still far from working through the fallout from Trump’s single term as it girds for yet another bitter election.”

Nathan Gonzales: “Republicans won’t have to reckon with the electoral ramifications of Trump’s indictment for now. But much of the short-term analysis (or more specifically, the overall Republican response) to Trump’s reported 34-count indictment by a Manhattan grand jury is lacking and could prove to be politically shortsighted.”

“One of the core GOP arguments in defense of Trump is that the investigation is a politically driven charade by District Attorney Alvin Bragg. That could be both true and help Trump fire up his supporters, but it says nothing about the former president’s innocence.”

“To put it another way, an investigation can be political and the accused be guilty. Partisan politics by the other party is not an excuse to conduct crimes.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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