Cup of Joe – April 14, 2023

“Around a half-dozen rifle-carrying FBI agents on Thursday pushed onto the property of a 21-year-old air national guardsman who investigators believe is linked to a trove of leaked classified U.S. intelligence documents,” the New York Times reports.

“A member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, the man is tied to an online group where the leaked documents first appeared.”

“The leader of a small online gaming chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard,” the New York Times reports.

“The national guardsman, whose name is Jack Teixeira, oversaw a private online group named Thug Shaker Central, where about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games.”

Associated Press: “Ukraine’s leaders say they don’t see a major U.S. intelligence leak as gravely damaging future offensives. A key reason: They have long held back on sharing their most sensitive operational information, doubting Washington’s ability to keep their secrets safe.”x

“The Pentagon has begun to limit who across the government receives its highly classified daily intelligence briefs following a major leak of classified information discovered last week,” CNN reports.

“Some US officials who used to receive the briefing materials daily have stopped receiving it in recent days.”

“The man behind a massive leak of U.S. government secrets that has exposed spying on allies, revealed the grim prospects for Ukraine’s war with Russia and ignited diplomatic fires for the White House is a young, charismatic gun enthusiast who shared highly classified documents with a group of far-flung acquaintances searching for companionship amid the isolation of the pandemic,” the Washington Post reports.

“United by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God, the group of roughly two dozen — mostly men and boys — formed an invitation-only clubhouse in 2020 on Discord, an online platform popular with gamers.”

Washington Post: “The assessment… could galvanize the war’s critics who have called on major powers such as the United States and China to push for Kyiv and Moscow to reach a settlement and end a conflict that has displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands dead or wounded.”

“The depth of the infighting inside the Russian government appears broader and deeper than previously understood, judging from a newly discovered cache of classified intelligence documents that has been leaked online,” the New York Times reports.

“The additional documents, which did not surface in a 53-page set that came to wide public attention online last week, paint a picture of the Russian government feuding over the count of the dead and wounded in the Ukraine war, with the domestic intelligence agency accusing the military of obscuring the scale of casualties that Russia has suffered.”

“The new batch, which contains 27 pages, reinforces how deeply American spy agencies have penetrated nearly every aspect of the Russian intelligence apparatus and military command structure.”

Over the past several days, the full scope, scale and speed of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigations of Donald Trump have come more fully into focus. The daily drip of accounts from witnesses, defense lawyers, and others almost certainly not associated with the government provides a somewhat skewed but still clarifying view into the legal jeopardy the former president faces at the federal level.

A few takeaways:

  • Speed: Smith is moving as fast as the legal system will allow and doesn’t appear encumbered by lack of resources or institutional support. We don’t know exactly how many grand juries he’s overseeing in DC, but, as was reaffirmed yesterday by the WaPo, at least two of them “are meeting every week about Trump and his advisers on multiple fronts.” Trump and others are putting up various fights over executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, and the Speech or Debate Clause, which must be litigated and that necessarily takes time. But the courts are moving quickly (for them), allowing Smith to speed those arguments through the appeals process, where for the most part he keeps winning. The clock is ticking, though, with a pressing need to make charging decisions before the 2024 campaign season is in full swing.
  • Scope: The most self-contained probe involves the Mar-a-Lago documents case. The Jan. 6 probe is much more wide-ranging (more on that in a moment). But the thoroughness and aggressiveness with which Smith picked up from the original DOJ components handling these cases suggests a clear understanding of the stakes, the risks, and the historic significance of what is unfolding.
  • Scale: The Jan. 6 investigations of the higher ups, especially when coupled with the hundreds of criminal prosecutions of the rioters, which the Justice Department has already called the biggest probe in its history, appears to be as sweeping and all-encompassing as it deserves. We still don’t know the exact contours of this probe, but it ranges from the fake electors scheme, to the financing of the Jan. 6 rallies, to the bogus fundraising the Trump campaign was doing off the Big Lie, to the connections between Trump World and the leading edge of the provocateurs at the Capitol. In other words, the investigation seems to rise to the historic moment.

That Washington Post adds to what CNN has been reporting for a while: The Big Lie-focused fundraising between Election Day 2020 and Inauguration Day 2021 is a specific focus of Jack Smith’s investigation:

  • Smith has sent subpoenas since the beginning of March about the fundraising angle to Trump advisers and former campaign aides, Republican operatives and other consultants involved in the 2020 presidential campaign, according to the report.
  • “[P]rosecutors are said to be interested in whether anyone associated with the fundraising operation violated wire fraud laws, which make it illegal to make false representations over email to swindle people out of money.”
  • “The subpoenas seek more specific types of communications so that prosecutors can compare what Trump allies and advisers were telling one another privately about the voter-fraud claims with what they were saying publicly in appeals that generated more than $200 million in donations from conservatives, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.”

In the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation, Jack Smith has zeroed in on a sensitive map containing intel that Trump took with him when he left office and allegedly showed off to aides and visitors, the New York Times reports.

The story is full of new nuggets:

  • “One person briefed on the matter said investigators have asked about Mr. Trump showing the map while aboard a plane.”
  • “A third person with knowledge of the investigation said the map might also have been shown to a journalist writing a book.”
  • Investigators are also reportedly looking at whether Trump delayed his annual departure from Mar-a-Lago last year and sifted through boxes between the May grand jury subpoena for the return of documents and a June 3 visit from DOJ officials to retrieve them. Not all the sought-after documents were returned then, leading to the FBI search of MAL in August.

“Well, my sense of this case has been almost since the date of the search warrant execution at Mar-a-Lago, that this case is the shortest distance between Donald John Trump and an orange jumpsuit. I still adhere to that view.” — George Conway, on Morning Joe, arguing the classified documents case is the easiest to prove against Donald Trump.

The rapid-fire developments in the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox landmark defamation case were nothing short of startling:

The judge imposed sanctions against Fox for withholding evidence from Dominion and misleading the court.

Angry about the conduct of Fox’s high-powered and respected legal team, the judge signaled he would appoint a special master to investigate the withholding of evidence and related matters, including it appears the failure to reveal that Rupert Murdoch is an officer of Fox News.

As if that weren’t enough, MSNBC’s Alex Wagner obtained some of the allegedly withheld evidence: audio tapes made by a former senior Fox News producer Abby Grossberg who is now suing the network. Here’s that segment:

Dylan Byers: “The case, which is scheduled to go to trial next week, has already unearthed troves of embarrassing private emails and text messages between the Murdochs, Fox News executives, and on-air talent that lay bare the network’s willingness to promote baseless voter fraud conspiracies—conspiracies most of the hosts and executives clearly did not believe—in a desperate attempt to keep itself in the good graces of the MAGA faithful and compete with Newsmax.”

“The embarrassment from the discovery phase is merely the start. Once the trial is underway, the Murdochs, Fox executives, and several of the network’s most well-known hosts—Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham among them—will likely be compelled to testify before a jury. On Wednesday, a group of news organizations filed a petition for live audio of the proceedings, and may push further for video footage, which could turn the testimony of Fox News’ popular stars into a national news event, à la Gwyneth Paltrow or Johnny Depp.”

“Meanwhile, more potentially damaging evidence is likely to come to the fore.”

NBC News: Jury selection begins in Dominion defamation case vs. Fox News.

Vanity Fair: “At the age of 91, Murdoch blew up his fourth marriage. Jerry Hall was waiting for Murdoch to meet her at their Oxfordshire estate last June when she checked her phone.”

Wrote Murdoch: “Jerry, sadly I’ve decided to call an end to our marriage. We have certainly had some good times, but I have much to do…My New York lawyer will be contacting yours immediately.”

“Hall told friends she was blindsided… One of the terms of the settlement was that Hall couldn’t give story ideas to the writers on Succession.”

“A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily blocked a decision by a judge in Texas to suspend U.S. government approval of a key abortion medication nationwide,” the Washington Post reports.

Associated Press: “But in the 2-1 vote, the panel of judges put on hold changes made by the regulator since 2016 that relaxed the rules for prescribing and dispensing mifepristone. Those included extending the period of pregnancy when the drug can be used from seven weeks to 10, and also allowing it to be dispensed by mail, without any need to visit a doctor’s office.”

The overnight ruling in the big Texas abortion pill case by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was frankly a disaster. You probably woke up to alerts that the appeals court issued a stay, which is true, but it’s only a partial stay and it’s reasoning is flawed in numerous ways.

This will almost surely force the Justice Department to go the conservative Supreme Court to try to obtain a more thorough stay blocking the lower court decision. I know that may sound like a fool’s errand, but these decisions are so bad that even the six-justice conservative majority may have trouble swallowing them. Either way, DOJ doesn’t have much choice and better to know the legal terrain as it is rather than as we might guess or imagine it to be.

“Donald Trump is set to be questioned under oath on Thursday in a civil fraud lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the latest in a series of legal predicaments entangling the former president, who also faces a separate 34-count criminal indictment unsealed last week,” the New York Times reports.

“Ms. James’s civil case, which was filed in September and is expected to go to trial later this year, accuses Mr. Trump, his family business and three of his children of a ‘staggering’ fraud for overvaluing the former president’s assets by billions of dollars. The lawsuit seeks $250 million that it contends they reaped through those deceptions, made in Mr. Trump’s annual financial statements — and asks a judge to essentially run him out of business in the state if he is found liable at trial.”

“Donald Trump is expected to answer questions Thursday during his second deposition at the offices of New York Attorney General Letitia James, according to a source familiar with his legal team’s planning,” CBS News reports.

“Trump previously invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 400 times during an August 2022 deposition, about a month before James’ office sued Trump, three of his children, and their company, alleging years of fraud.”

“This deposition, which is part of the civil pretrial discovery process, is expected to go differently, with Trump declining to invoke the Fifth.”

House Republicans have started to “informally” assemble a bill that would lift the debt limit until May 2024 and accomplish their goal of returning to fiscal year 2022 discretionary spending levels, Punchbowl News reports.

“After Dianne Feinstein announced she’d contracted the shingles in early March, her staff said she planned to return to the Senate within a matter of weeks,” Politico reports.

“But multiple Democrats close to her, as well as top-ranking congressional aides, are growing increasingly concerned that she may never come back to Washington at all.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) tweets: “It’s time for Sen. Feinstein to resign. We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people.”

“Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said she will temporarily give up her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in an announcement that came just hours after her Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) called on her to resign on Wednesday,” Washington Post reports.

“It’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Sen. Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.” — Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), quoted by The Hill. Oh please, Nancy. Maybe you can say this is ableist or ageist, but it’s not sexist.

Josh Marshall: “This is an undignified and unkind spectacle that shouldn’t be playing out on Twitter or in press stories. Feinstein should simply step down. There is no issue she espouses that wouldn’t be advocated for by an appointed successor in 2023–24 and an elected one in 2025. The idea that it is acceptable to be absent from the Senate for months at a time with no clear prospect of return is absurd.

I said on Twitter this afternoon that rather than allowing the current spectacle to play out publicly, it is incumbent on Gov. Newsom and Sen. Schumer to go to Sen. Feinstein and/or her family and/or her staff and say she needs to step down. A number of people responded that those conversations have probably already taken place but to no avail.

Is that true? Maybe. Probably. But clearly not directly enough or clearly enough.”

“The Public Broadcasting Service has followed National Public Radio in quitting Twitter after the social media network labeled both organizations as government-backed media,” Bloomberg reports.

“Seeking revenge against his former lawyer for airing all his dirty laundry, Donald Trump sued his one-time fixer, Michael Cohen for more than $500 million,” the Daily Beast reports.

“The 32-page lawsuit, filed in South Florida federal court, aims to punish Cohen for violating a confidentiality agreement by divulging secrets about their attorney-client relationship when he wrote memoirs full of salacious details—and subsequently became the star witness for the Manhattan District Attorney’s criminal case against the ex-president.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) “stood alone as he asked for lawmakers to pass a bill to keep guns away from dangerous people,” WKRN reports.

“However, it isn’t clear who is working to write that legislation.”

Thomas Edsall: “Republican leaders are now adopting increasingly autocratic measures, using the police powers of government to impose moralized regulations, turning private citizens into enforcement officers and expelling defiant elected Democrats just as county Republican parties, particularly in western states, are electing militia members, Christian nationalists and QAnon believers to key posts.”

“During debate Tuesday on a bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, Missouri State Senator Mike Moon (R) suggested children as young as 12 should have the right to marry with parental permission,” the Springfield News-Leader reports.

Said Moon: “Do you know any kids who have been married at age 12? I do. And guess what? They’re still married.”

“Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, the Florida Legislature is considering a sweeping package of immigration measures that would represent the toughest crackdown on undocumented immigration by any state in more than a decade,” the New York Times reports.

“The bills would expose people to felony charges for sheltering, hiring and transporting undocumented immigrants; require hospitals to ask patients their immigration status and report to the state; invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to undocumented immigrants; prevent undocumented immigrants from being admitted to the bar in Florida; and direct the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide assistance to federal authorities in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.”

DeSantis is trying to get to the right of Donald Trump on every single issue.

“The Biden administration has started giving the congressional ‘Gang of Eight’ access to the classified documents that were recovered from the homes of former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence,” Punchbowl News reports.

“This is a major victory for Congress and, more broadly, a validation of lawmakers’ role as overseers of the U.S. intelligence community.”

“Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is taking early steps toward legislation to regulate artificial intelligence technology,” Axios reports.  “A recent explosion in the development of generative AI systems has spurred alarm among lawmakers and the broader public about AI’s potential social, economic and security ramifications.”

The Rundown is an excellent way to keep up with the latest AI developments.

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills to combat gun violence Thursday, two months after a mass shooting on the campus of Michigan State University left three students dead and five injured,” the Detroit News reports.

“The proposals, which take effect next year, will expand background check requirements for firearm purchases and institute new storage standards for guns kept in homes where children are present.”

Detroit Free Press: “In addition to the bills she signed, Whitmer repeated her call for lawmakers to send legislation to create a so-called ‘red flag law’ her way.”

“The D.C. Court of Appeals has declined to answer whether then-President Donald Trump was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly defamed writer E Jean Carroll when denying her rape claim,” ABC News reports.

President Biden’s nomination of Julie Su as Labor secretary is in serious danger, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has told the Biden administration he has deep reservations about her, Axios reports.

The Arizona House voted to expel state Rep. Liz Harris (R) following an ethics probe that found Harris engaged in “disorderly behavior” for bringing a guest to a public hearing who falsely accused lawmakers of taking bribes from a drug cartel, the Arizona Republic reports.

“Nine national media organizations, including CNN, are suing for access to Capitol Hill surveillance tapes of January 6, 2021, that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has provided to Fox News but so far to no other press outlets.” CNN reports.

Barack Obama apparently does actually read all those books that he recommends.

An internal complaint filed against Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton (R) alleges that he was engaging in a potentially “inappropriate relationship” with an intern, the Texas Tribune reports.

Daily Beast: “Republicans said they would repeal Biden’s signature achievement, the Inflation Reduction Act. Now that they have the power to do so, they don’t seem so eager to vote.”

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

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