Cup of Joe – July 28, 2023

Donald Trump’s legal team is meeting with special counsel Jack Smith this morning ahead of a possible indictment, CNN reports. Jurors and a prosecutor working for Smith entering the courthouse this morning.

The grand jury, which normally meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, had not been seen inside the federal courthouse since last week.

“Donald Trump’s legal and political teams are preparing for the possibility that the federal grand jury will vote on charges against the former president as early as Thursday,” NBC News reports.

“A top election security official who was fired by President Donald Trump weeks after the 2020 election has confirmed to CNN that he was interviewed in recent months by the special counsel investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the election,” CNN reports.

“Donald Trump could be days away from another indictment, but as a third set of criminal charges looms, he’s struggling to recruit lawyers to defend him,” Rolling Stone reports.

“In recent weeks, the Trump team has tried, with mixed results, to bring aboard new lawyers to defend against an expected indictment over Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — even as Special Counsel Jack Smith has signaled his office is ready to bring charges.”

“The recruiting effort has been fraught for several reasons. Trump, the people familiar with the matter say, is an infamously difficult client. One attorney who was approached about work declined, telling Rolling Stone they were dissuaded by the lengthy track record of Trump’s personal lawyers suddenly finding themselves in legal jeopardy while working for Trump. Some attorneys who’ve discussed the investigation with Trump and his close associates believe the case is a certain loser for the defense, arguing, among other things, that Trump’s loss at the initial trial is a foregone conclusion in Washington, D.C.”

“Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that it seems like Donald Trump’s final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, might be cooperating with the federal probe into the former president,” NBC News reports.

“Christie was reacting to a brief exchange captured on video Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., between Meadows and an NBC News reporter, who asked him if he has testified before a federal grand jury.”

Said Christie: “Watching that video, that looks to me like somebody who is cooperating with the federal government.”

Christie added that witnesses who testify before grand juries can talk publicly: “The only time you can’t do it is when the government has a cooperation agreement with you and they say, ‘No talking about this; the only time we want to hear you talking is when you’re on the witness stand.’”

Former Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told NBC News that he is “mildly surprised” that special counsel Jack Smith’s office has not sought a meeting with him to discuss his accusations that former President Donald Trump urged him to help “rescind” the 2020 election and “violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law.” 

“Hunter Biden’s legal team was angry and dejected late Wednesday after a plea deal to help the president’s son avoid prison blew up in a chaotic, three-hour court hearing,” Axios reports.

“Hours after the hearing, Biden’s team was still fuming, suggesting that Noreika seemed intent on not letting the plea agreement go forward after deliberately questioning lawyers on both sides about the terms of the deal.”

“But the judge’s questioning did reveal a disagreement over whether the agreement on the tax charges was linked to a gun charge against Biden. Prosecutors said it wasn’t; Biden’s team thought it was — and they repeatedly argued about it in open court.”

USA Today: Hunter Biden plea hearing features dramatic twists and turns, and a cliffhanger ending.

The risk of Donald Trump being elected President again and abusing the powers of the office to exact revenge and secure retribution against his perceived enemies is already having profound effects on the rule of law.

Yesterday’s highly unusual collapse of the Hunter Biden plea agreement was directly related to the menace Trump poses if he retakes the office he was already twice impeached for abusing.

What stands out most about the awkward and bizarre proceedings in Delaware yesterday is that Hunter Biden’s legal team and federal prosecutors were trying to arrive at a workaround that would prevent him from being targeted by a future Trump White House.

At issue initially was how far-reaching is the immunity Hunter Biden would receive under the deal. Prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s team disagreed about what they had originally negotiated. Plea hearings are usually routine, and it is not common at all for defendants and prosecutors to arrive in court with this kind of misunderstanding not already resolved. That was odd enough.

But in reviewing the reports on the hearing and the transcript it’s clear that what ultimately held things up was the judge’s concerns about the framework of the agreement that was clearly designed to provide Hunter Biden with some protection from a future Trump presidency and a subsequent DOJ run amok. (For a deeper summary, I’d recommend Joyce Vance.)

U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika was rightly concerned that the proposed workaround would insert the judicial branch into what is exclusively executive branch territory. That was especially ironic since she had just shot down an attempt by the legislative branch – in the form of the House GOP – to weigh in on the plea agreement.

Noreika, a Trump appointee (but it should be said she conduced the plea hearing carefully, professionally and without any hint of partisanship), declined to ratify the plea agreement and ordered the parties to submit written briefs.

Trump has already injected a curdling effect on the rule of law into the minds of anyone – investigators, partisan foes, public targets of his enmity – likely to be on the receiving end of his abuses of power. But now we see his influence manifesting in ways that are forcing prosecutors and judges to deal with it.

That Trump can have this kind of corrosive effect while out of office is a harbinger of what Trump II would look like.

“Donald Trump keeps flogging the Hunter Biden saga to cast President Joe Biden as the head of a crime family. Earlier this week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy floated the idea of moving forward with impeachment proceedings over the matter,” Politico reports.

“But as the Hunter Biden case came to a head in recent days — with Biden pleading not guilty to tax and gun charges on Wednesday as a plea deal fell apart — some prominent Republicans were questioning the effectiveness of going after the president’s son on the issue, at all.”

“The U.S. economy grew solidly last quarter and remained well clear of a recession despite the Federal Reserve pushing interest rates higher,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Gross domestic product grew at a seasonally and inflation adjusted annual rate of 2.4% in the second quarter, picking up slightly from 2% growth in the first three months of the year.”

CNBC: “Perhaps as important, inflation was held in check through the period. The personal consumption expenditures price index increased 2.6%, down from a 4.1% rise in the first quarter and well below the Dow Jones estimate for a gain of 3.2%.”

“Just a few days after a once fringe far-right party came out ahead in last fall’s elections in Italy, President Biden warned that it could be a sign of trouble for democracy,” the New York Times reports.

“But as Mr. Biden hosts Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, the fears of last fall have largely dissipated. Italy’s new leader has emerged as a strong ally in the president’s central foreign policy priority, the war in Ukraine, and he hopes to strengthen his bond with her during a high-profile visit.”

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tripped and fell while disembarking from a plane at Reagan National Airport earlier this month, according to two sources familiar with the incident,” NBC News reports.

Sen Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joked that President Biden told him he got “sandbagged” — an obvious reference to the president tripping over a sandbag a few months ago.

Republican senators publicly rallied around Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) after he froze for 20 seconds at a media event, but privately some suggest he “isn’t as dominant” in meetings anymore, Punchbowl News reports.

Axios: “McConnell remains a powerful force on Capitol Hill — and a sudden retirement would leave a gaping vacuum in the Senate GOP conference.”

Charlie Sykes: “Pardon the morbidity, but I really have to say what everybody is (or should be) saying about what happened with Mitch McConnell yesterday.”

“Imagine if that had happened to Donald Trump. Or Joe Biden.”

“Our politics would be upended in the blink of an eye. The margin is that thin.”

“But this is what living in a gerontocracy is like.”

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who has endorsed Donald Trump, criticized the DeSantis administration over its new Black history teaching requirements, saying he supported the overall approach but not that students be taught that African Americans gained skills learned during slavery.  His statement set off a fierce back-and-forth between the Trump and DeSantis campaigns, with a DeSantis spokesperson asking: “Did Kamala Harris write this tweet?”

“Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 campaign fired an aide this week who secretly created and shared a pro-DeSantis video that featured the candidate at the center of a Sonnenrad, an ancient symbol appropriated by the Nazis and still used by some white supremacists,” Axios reports.

“Nate Hochman, a speechwriter on the DeSantis campaign and a former writer for National Review, created the video on his own and shared it through a pro-DeSantis Twitter account.”

Variety: “Zucker and Zaslav’s power struggles over the cable news network — one of the most prestigious assets in the WBD portfolio and also one of the biggest perennial headaches for the parent company — shed light on the chaotic and roiling environment Zucker left behind after his 2022 ouster.”

“The former network chief, who was forced out after failing to disclose a romantic relationship with a CNN subordinate and for committing ethical breaches in the newsgathering process, likely will fail in any bid to take back the network. But his battles with Zaslav and his behind-the-scenes attempts to undermine Licht (whom Zaslav fired last month) are more than just power plays from one of the media world’s most consequential egos. They suggest that Zucker sees an opening — however narrow — and isn’t worried about damaging CNN as he attempts to ram his way through it.”

“At stake is the future of CNN, arguably the most iconic and influential news brand in the world and one that can make or break a presidential candidate as a divided America heads into the 2024 election cycle.”

Oliver Darcy: “Twitter, the text-based social media platform that played an outsized role on society by serving as a digital town square, was killed by its unhinged owner Elon Musk on Sunday. It was 17 years old.”

“A zombie Twitter, known only as X, reluctantly endures. A warped and disfigured platform, X marches on like a White Walker, an ugly shell of its former self under the command of a loathsome leader.”

“Whereas Twitter was once a fountain of authoritative information, X is a platform where trolls can pay a small fee to have their ugly content boosted ahead of reputable sources.”

Washington Post: “For nearly a decade, Tuberville has described the World War II exploits of his father, Charles R. Tuberville Jr., in a relatively consistent way — that he was a tank commander, that he earned five Bronze Stars, that he participated in the D-Day landing and that he lied about his age to join the army. News organizations have tended to accept Tuberville’s version and either reprint or broadcast it.”

“Yet an examination of army histories, newspaper reports and other materials calls into question many of the claims put forth by Tuberville.”

New York Times: “In the years since Mr. Santos first ran for the House in 2020, he has become adept at finding ways to extract money from politics. He founded a political consulting group that he marketed to other Republicans. He sought to profit from the Covid crisis, using campaign connections. And he solicited investments for and from political donors, raising ethical questions.”

“Mr. Santos has been charged with 13 felonies for misrepresenting his earnings, collecting $24,000 in unemployment while employed, and pocketing $50,000 he solicited from political supporters through what he claimed was a super PAC.”

Donald Trump released a video pleading with Congress to save him from the multiple legal battles he’s currently facing.

Said Trump: “Congress, if you will, please investigate the political witch hunts against me currently being brought by the corrupt DOJ and FBI, who are totally out of control,”

He adds: “This continuing saga is retribution against me for winning and even more importantly to them, election interference regarding the 2024 presidential election. It will be their updated form of rigging our most important election. Look at the polls, they can’t beat me. The only way they can win is to cheat and they cheat better than anybody has seen them cheat. Stop them now. Save our country.”

New York Times: “Cloistered behind the gates of her three homes, [Melania Trump] sticks to a small circle — her son, her elderly parents and a handful of old friends. She visits her hairdressers, consults with Hervé Pierre, her longtime stylist, and sometimes meets her husband for Friday night dinner at their clubs. But her most ardent pursuit is a personal campaign: helping her son, Barron, 17, with his college search.”

“What she has not done, despite invitations from her husband, is appear on the campaign trail. Nor has she been at his side for any of his court appearances.”

“The Education Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Harvard University’s preferences for the relatives of alumni and donors when making admissions decisions,” the New York Times reports.

“The inquiry comes after a formal complaint that three groups filed after the Supreme Court’s decision last month on the use of affirmative action by colleges and universities that severely limit race-conscious admissions.”

Christopher Browning: “The very last months of the Trump presidency foreshadowed what a second term would entail. When formerly loyal vassals such as Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper demonstrated that they would not cross the line into unconstitutional insurgency, Trump sought sycophants for whom no such line existed. In a new Trump administration, total devotion to the leader would be the sole qualification for appointment.”

“Unlike previous fascist leaders with their cult of war, Trump still offers appeasement to dictators abroad, but he now promises something much closer to dictatorship at home. For me, what Trump is offering for his second presidency will meet the threshold, and the label I’d choose to describe it would be ‘isolationist fascism.’ Until now, such a concept would have been an oxymoron, a historical phenomenon without precedent. Trump continues to break every mold.”

Paul Rosenzweig: “If, as seems likely, Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee next year, the 2024 elections will be a referendum on several crucial issues: the prospect of authoritarianism in America, the continuation of a vibrant democracy, the relationship between the executive branch and the other two branches of government, and much else of grave significance.”

“It will also be a referendum on whether Trump will ever be held legally accountable for his actions. Trump faces multiple civil suits and at least two criminal indictments (with two more seemingly just over the horizon). If Trump were to win reelection, it is almost certain that none of these will ever be resolved—at least not in a way that is adverse to his interests, which any reasonable system would admit as a possibility. Such is the power of the presidency.”

“Ukrainian forces trying to punch through Russian lines are facing perhaps their biggest test of the war as, according to two Pentagon officials, Kyiv begins the main thrust of its counteroffensive, pouring the bulk of their Western-trained reserves into the fight to sever Moscow’s hold on the south,” the New York Times reports.

“The task facing the advancing Ukrainian troops is monumental. Since seizing Ukrainian territory in last year’s invasion, Russia has built a dense defensive web of minefields, trenches, bunkers, tank traps and other obstacles. That has made the counteroffensive slow going, frustrating Ukrainians and international supporters.”

Foreign Policy: “Top U.S. and South African officials and lawmakers have engaged in a flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to salvage ties that have been roiled by South Africa’s support of Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine.”

“China’s former foreign minister, who was replaced on Tuesday after he went missing from public view for more than a month, is now disappearing from parts of the Foreign Ministry’s website—an erasure that is intensifying intrigue around what happened to him,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern sea, South Korea’s military said Tuesday, adding to a recent streak in weapons testing that is apparently in protest of the U.S. sending major naval assets to South Korea in a show of force,” the AP reports.

“Eight search warrants and affidavits were filed in connection with the federal case involving former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents that resulted in a slew of criminal charges against him,” NBC News reports.

Politico: “The GOP’s war on corporate America’s environmental and social agenda is creating an unexpected set of Wall Street allies: Democrats defending free-market capitalism. Leading progressives and longtime finance industry critics are embracing the role.”

The FBI on Tuesday sent the House Judiciary Committee a sizable number of documents in response to subpoenas regarding the bureau’s investigations into school board-related threats and “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology,” Punchbowl News reports.

“Russia’s defense minister accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to a defense exhibition that featured the North’s banned ballistic missiles as the neighbors pledged to boost ties,” Reuters reports.

“Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed two bills banning so-called conversion therapy, a scientifically discredited practice intended to change a person’s sexual orientation, for minors in the state,” CNN reports.

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

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