A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo.
Ammo For Trump
For big picture purposes, let me just make this clear off the bat: Ron DeSantis’ position on U.S. support for Ukraine is still unclear. But that is largely beside the point.
Over the course of the last week and a half, the Florida governor has been roundly criticized by fellow Republicans for an answer he gave in a Tucker Carlson questionnaire about his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S.’s support for Ukraine’s military. His response at the time was more telling about his 2024 campaign strategy than his actual beliefs about the war. In remarks to Carlson, DeSantis characterized Russia’s year-long deadly invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and argued that supporting Ukraine’s defense was not necessarily in the U.S.’s best interest. Here’s the full quote:
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests—securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party—becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
The remark confused some Republicans and supporters who have been following DeSantis’ positioning for longer than the past year. Back when DeSantis was a congressman from Florida, he was incensed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and frequently attacked the Obama administration, claiming it wasn’t doing enough to punish Russia for the occupation.
But the rationale for the about-face earlier this month is fairly obvious. Carlson often uses his show to promote pro-Putin propaganda — a year ago a leaked memo revealed the Kremlin had been advising Russian state media to broadcast Carlson segments as often as possible — and has been highly critical of the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine.
So on one hand, DeSantis knew his audience and was likely hoping to appeal to Carlson’s viewership, which has been bathed in the Fox News host’s anti-Ukraine sentiment for over a year. But he’s also trying to make inroads with Trump supporters before he officially challenges the former president for the Republican nomination. When Carlson’s team asked Trump if “opposing Russia in Ukraine” was “a vital American national strategist interest,” Trump held to his isolationist stance: “No, but it is for Europe.”
Other far-right MAGA Republicans like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Freedom Caucus members in the House have become increasingly critical of the U.S.’s military support for Ukraine, with some calling for it to end.
But Republican foreign policy hawks were quick to pounce on DeSantis for his position on Ukraine, and publicly lambasted the Florida Republican for it — John Cornyn said he was “disturbed” by DeSantis’ remarks, Marco Rubio suggested the governor wasn’t experienced enough in foreign policy to have an opinion, etc.
And it appears it’s all getting to DeSantis. During his interview with Piers Morgan this week, which will air in its entirety tomorrow, DeSantis cleaned up his remarks. He called Putin a “war criminal” who should be “held accountable” and admitted he could have been clearer about the whole “territorial dispute” thing.
The bigger point is that DeSantis, in caving to criticism, proved that he’s capable of being shamed — a massive vulnerability and character flaw in today’s MAGA Republican Party that Trump will surely feast upon.
During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reacted to news of the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Putin, saying European countries should detain Putin and turn him over to the ICC should he visit. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked the Biden administration official if he would “encourage our European allies to turn him over.”
“Anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations,” Blinken said.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling compelling a Trump attorney to sit for grand jury testimony and hand over documents to special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation. The lawyer, Evan Corcoran, is likely to testify Friday.
Business Insider was the first to report the news that the panel of jurors weighing an indictment of Trump over the hush payments did not meet Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did reportedly tell the grand jury to still stand by for Thursday and reports indicate the panel will meet today.
The panel last met on Monday when it heard testimony from Robert Costello, Michael Cohen’s former lawyer whom Trump’s team brought in to poke holes in Cohen’s credibility and testimony. Cohen, who already served time for charges related to the hush money payments, has been a key prosecution witness. It is not unusual for a grand jury to shift its schedule to accommodate witness testimony.
The Amount Of People Who Have Sent Me This
Someone used AI to create fake images of Trump getting arrested and they went viral.
Grain Of Salt But …
There are reports that indicate otherwise, but Trump does Live For The Drama:
Thank You Hunter
Send some strength and good vibes to my colleague Hunter Walker who slogged through seven years of the swampy, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic grime that is North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson’s (R) Facebook footprint for your outrage and reading pleasure. Bonus:
Along with Facebook posts that included racial and anti-gay slurs, “New World Order” conspiracies, and Holocaust denial, I found that North Carolina’s lieutenant governor had an online fantasy life as a professional wrestler. Meet “Bigg Smoke.” https://t.co/uQgUKk4RdW pic.twitter.com/Orkqtv7iXa— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) March 22, 2023
Don’t Say Guilty
The now-former Republican state lawmaker who wrote the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that gave DeSantis all the ammo he needed to declare his war on wokeness in Florida and start a ghost 2024 campaign, pleaded guilty to COVID-19 relief-related fraud charges this week. Ex-state Rep. Joseph Harding faces up to 35 years in prison for the federal felony charges.
For Everyone Having ‘The Last Of Us’ Withdrawals
New alert from the CDC:
Trump Lawyer Personally In Comms With House Republicans
Mere hours after Trump raised baseless conspiracy theories on Truth Social arguing that the Biden DOJ was doing shady coordination with the Manhattan DA’s office, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was On The Case. He and other House Republicans sent a letter to Bragg’s office on Monday demanding Bragg answer to the conspiracy theory. The letter was so over-the-top misleading that Bragg, who rarely speaks publicly, responded to the letter with a statement saying his office wasn’t “intimidated” by the House GOP’s various attempts to run interference for Trump.
Well, it appears Jordan may have had a bit of a heads up on how to respond to reports of the indictment. Per the New York Times:
Mr. Trump’s lawyers have quietly pushed the Republican-led House to intervene. Last month, a Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, wrote to Mr. Jordan calling on Congress to investigate the “egregious abuse of power” by what he called a “rogue local district attorney,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The New York Times.
Democrats aren’t happy. This from WaPo’s Greg Sargent:
Though that doesn’t prove collaboration, congressional aides tell me Democrats will seize on any hearings to publicly grill Republicans on whether they have been communicating with Trump’s legal team and if so, how.
You’ve Learned Nothing Jon Snow
A former Trump White House aide Sarah Matthews — who served as deputy press secretary for a time — laid into Trump for his latest incitement of violence on Truth Social.
“I think it goes to show he’s learned nothing in the aftermath of Jan. 6,” Matthews said on CNN. “The rhetoric he was using was similar to the rhetoric he used around Jan. 6. I think in his Truth Social post he said that they needed to protest to ‘take back our nation.’”
“I do think at the same time we’re probably not going to see the same response from his supporters that we saw regarding Jan. 6,” she added. “I don’t think it’s going to be the same level.”
The reality is that the convergence of the declining population of White Christians with the rise of Trump has been bad for both evangelicalism and American politics. Trump came along, telling the shrinking band of white Christian nationalists that they are victims. He reveled in nostalgia for a time when they dominated (demographically and politically) and blamed immigrants, elites and “wokeness” for their ills. They were the group most susceptible to a message that reinforces their feeling they have “lost” something or something has been “taken away.
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