A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.
Mob Boss Pure And Simple
An extraordinary series of events yesterday involving a former president, the legal system, and the threat he poses to democracy.
I’m not a big fan of the “imagine if Obama had done this thing Trump did” genre or of the adjacent “imagine how Republicans would have reacted to this Trump thing if a Democrat had done it.” But I do think recalling how we would have reacted a decade or more ago to the indignities of the current moment is a handy thought experiment that helps arrest the slide into numbness and normalization.
Consider for a moment any one of these things happening before 2015 (in fairness, the first two items already happened within the past two weeks, but I don’t think that undermines my point nearly as much as it reinforces it):
- A former president (on civil trial for engaging in fraudulent business practices, which itself would have been unthinkable 10 years ago) publicly targets a court clerk in his case.
- The former president, in so doing, violates a pre-existing gag order on targeting the court staff imposed because of his prior targeting of the court clerk – a gag order the former president has already violated once and for which he was sanctioned $5,000.
- The former president is called to the witness box by the judge to answer for his latest public targeting of the court clerk.
- The former president’s denial that he had just targeted the court clerk in public comments immediately outside of the courtroom is deemed “not credible” by the judge.
- The former president is sanctioned an additional $10,000 for his latest violation.
I realize that the combined fines of $15,000 is less than the annual membership fee at one of Trump’s golf courses. But as a measured intermediate step on the road toward more serious sanctions or a contempt of court finding, it’s prudent. Regardless though, the mere fact that this is happening and it involves a former president – and the current presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party! – is not just unprecedented, it’s astounding.
Jack Smith Seizes The Moment
In a coincidence of timing too cheesy to include in a novel or screenplay, Trump’s violation of the gag order in the New York civil fraud trial came on the exact same day that Special Counsel Jack Smith faced a deadline to respond to Trump’s motion to stay the separate gag order in his Jan. 6 case in DC.
Trump gave Smith so much to work with, and Smith didn’t hesitate to use it.
Smith’s filing seized on the gag order violation in New York to argue that the gag order in DC, briefly paused by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan while she considers arguments, should not be stayed while Trump appeals it.
“The defendant’s continued targeting of witnesses and repeated violations of a similar order in New York … not only illustrate the risks of suspending the Court’s appropriate order; they demonstrate why the Court should lift the administrative stay and modify the defendant’s conditions of release to protect witnesses from his attacks,” Smith argued in his filing.
I don’t want to be pedantic here, but step back for a moment: A federal prosector imploring a federal judge to protect witnesses in a criminal case from ongoing attacks by a former president. In what world, y’all?
As Morning Memo anticipated, Smith also pointed to Trump’s comments on Truth Social and in public about Mark Meadows’ immunity-for-testimony arrangement as further witness intimidation and targeting:
Yesterday, within hours of a news report about the purported testimony in this case of the defendant’s former Chief of Staff, the defendant issued multiple prejudicial and threatening Truth Social posts to influence and intimidate the Chief of Staff and comment publicly on the subject of his testimony. The defendant’s targeting included insinuating that if the reporting were true, the Chief of Staff had lied and had been coerced, and the defendant sent a clear public message to the Chief of Staff, intended to intimidate him …
Again, stepping back, the former president coercing and intimidating his former White House chief of staff from testifying against him in a criminal case for an attempted subversion of the Constitution. What planet are we on?
Smith Knows Exactly What Trump Is Up To
Unlike many of us, including much of the political press, Jack Smith’s team has figured out what Trump is all about, and they’re not afraid to call it out. It’s not generalized hand-waving and pearl-clutching. It’s not broad-brush objections to Trump’s conduct. It’s a precise, sharp understanding of what Trump is doing and why – and a keen ability to describe it in writing in terms a judge can understand.
“The defendant knows the effect of his targeting and seeks to use it to his strategic advantage while simultaneously disclaiming any responsibility for the very acts he
causes,” Smith told Chutkan, in returning to a theme he’s raised before.
In the same way that we might imagine how we would have reacted to Trump’s misdeeds before 2015, Smith capably takes the specifics of Trump’s misconduct and puts it in a larger context to show how strikingly out of bounds it is:
There has never been a criminal case in which a court has granted a defendant an unfettered right to try his case in the media, malign the presiding judge as a “fraud” and a “hack,” attack the prosecutor as “deranged” and a “thug,” and, after promising witnesses and others, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU,” target specific witnesses with attacks on their character and credibility, even suggesting that one witness’s actions warrant the “punishment” of “DEATH!”
No, there has never been such a criminal case.
Senate Democrats looking into Justice Clarence Thomas’s ethics issues issued new findings about that private loan from a friend to purchase a luxury RV back in 1999, based in part on documents turned over by the lender:
- There was no down payment for the $267,230 loan at 7.5 percent annual interest.
- Thomas was to make interest-only payments annually for what was originally a four-year term of the loan. Thomas agreed to the terms in a handwritten note on Supreme Court stationery.
- After the loan term was later modified to 10 years, the balance of the loan was forgiven after nine years. It’s not clear if Thomas had ever paid down any of the principal.
Based on the limited documents Senate Democrats had, it sure looks like a gift to Thomas in the form of loan forgiveness, though they focused more on the loan forgiveness being taxable income that Thomas apparently never reported.
One big caveat here: Senate Democrats explicitly said that they did not have all the loan documents or a full record of repayment. So more or new information could alter some of their conclusions.
For his part, Thomas issued a full-throated denial through an attorney: “The loan was never forgiven. Any suggestion to the contrary is false. The Thomases made all payments to Mr. Welters on a regular basis until the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full,” Berke said.
Bowman To Be Arraigned For Pulling Fire Alarm
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) was charged criminally in DC for pulling a fire alarm in a House office building before a hurried vote last month.
Under an arrangement already worked out, Bowman will pay a $1,000 fine and apologize to Capitol Police and the charge will be dropped after three months.
The Tough Road Ahead For Mike Johnson
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) is the least experienced, most lightly vetted, and rushed speaker in living memory. Expect not just a steep-learning curve, but a level of focus and scrutiny on him, his past politics, and personal and business dealings unlike anything he has ever endured before. But unlike most candidates for higher office or leadership positions, this is going to be real-time, live vetting after the fact of ascending to office.
Here’s an early sampling:
- Politico: How Mike Johnson led a campaign of election denial
- NYT: In Johnson, House Republicans Elevate One of Their Staunchest Conservatives
- NYT: New House Speaker Champions Fossil Fuels and Dismisses Climate Concerns
- WSJ: New Speaker Mike Johnson Made His Name as Cultural Conservative
- WaPo: New speaker Mike Johnson’s 2020 election denial could have 2024 implications
- CNN: New speaker of the House Mike Johnson once wrote in support of the criminalization of gay sex
- TPM: Best Way To Make Someone’s Quiet Extremism Widely Known? Elect Them Speaker
How Deep Was Mike Johnson’s Election Denialism?
As deep as “rigged” Dominion voting machines:
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