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Hello, it’s the weekend. This is The Weekender ☕

I hope this note finds you lucky enough to be one of the TPM readers in the path of aurora borealis visibility this weekend. If it doesn’t find you, I wish you geomagnetic storm satellite-disruption bliss. 

If anyone is craving a few moments of peace brought by the potentially impending ​​phone and data service disturbance, it’s the loyal TPM readers who have been following our coverage of the Trump trial this week. Humiliated Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) may be a close second. 

Here’s what we have on tap this weekend:

  • Josh Kovensky gives us a dispatch from the less-than-glamorous municipal courthouse, where he’s been living, essentially, for the last several weeks to bring us live coverage of the criminal trial of a former and potentially future president. 
  • Khaya Himmelman reports on the new Georgia election bill signed into law this week that’ll make it easier for right-wing groups like True the Vote to challenge voter registration rolls. 
  • Emine Yücel is ready to talk about RFK’s brain worms.

Let’s dig in. 

— Nicole Lafond

Another Day In Municipal Court

One of the strangest things about covering the Trump trial — and possibly the most aggravating for the defendant — is the sheer lack of any of the appurtenances of power that one might associate with a former President. Yes, the Secret Service is omnipresent (they can even be found in bars near the courthouse), but you have none of the glitz and glamor that Trump particularly and presidents generally are known to love. Instead, it’s a dingy courthouse that’s alternately too cold or stiflingly hot with faded wood, elevators that bump, flickering lights and faded window shades.

I (perhaps somewhat perversely) enjoy all this, though it’s a reminder of the reality of the criminal justice system for the vast majority of defendants. But the reminder that all of this — perhaps the only criminal trial of Donald Trump before the November election — is happening in New York City municipal court goes to another issue as well. It’s the relationship between the Judge, Juan Merchan, and Trump’s defense team.

Trump has four attorneys representing him in this case: Todd Blanche, Emil Bove, Susan Necheles, and Gedalia Stern. Of the four, the first two are former federal prosecutors who made the jump to private practice only relatively recently. Blanche came up in Trumpworld by representing Paul Manafort in his New York state case, but mostly through federal representations: Igor Fruman, most notably.

Of the four, only Susan Necheles has extensive experience in New York City’s state court system. I find this interesting in particular because Merchan raked Necheles over the coals on Thursday for her legal work during the Stormy Daniels cross, telling her that there were “many times” when she could have objected but didn’t, and saying: “why on earth she wouldn’t object to the mention of a condom, I don’t understand.”

What I find intriguing here is that, given their backgrounds, Merchan must know Necheles fairly well. Both are former state prosecutors in New York City, both have worked in the city’s state court system since the 1990s. Necheles, before Trump, had a roster of wealthy and well-known clients. Merchan has been a judge in Manhattan since 2009. Even in the country’s biggest city, the circles of people who try these kinds of cases and have these types of clients are relatively small. Everyone knows each other, at least by reputation, if not personally. It’s like any other office.

— Josh Kovensky

New Georgia Election Law Will ‘Inject Chaos’ Into Voting System 

Earlier this week, Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an election bill into law that, among other things, revises the standard for challenging voter eligibility, increasing the chances that conspiracy theorists will be able to successfully file mass voter challenges in the upcoming election. 

The multipart election bill known as Senate bill 189 passed the Republican-controlled legislature last month, and, as previously reported by TPM, lowers the threshold for successfully challenging voter eligibility. 

Prior to the passage of SB189, Georgia law did not define what constitutes probable cause for a voter challenge, but rather simply stated that if probable cause exists, that challenge is able to proceed. 

Voting rights activists argue that the SB189 will only increase the likelihood that voter registration complaints will be successful in 2024. The law, opponents argue, will make it easier for groups like the Big Lie Texas-based group True the Vote, to carry out meritless voter challenges, like they did following the 2020 election. 

Georgia Democratic state Rep. Saira Draper explained to TPM that although the previous law was vague, “it allowed the boards of elections broad discretion to sustain challenges or to reject them.” This new law, however, removes that discretion from the boards of elections, so that the boards may have to sustain a voter challenge even if it’s not warranted. 

Draper also noted that the law is not necessarily meant to get ineligible voters off of the voter rolls, because the state already has a system in place to manage that. Rather, it’s meant to “inject chaos into the process” and overburden election offices. 

In a May 7 statement on X, the voting rights organization developed by Stacey Abrams, Fair Fight, said SB189 “empowers MAGA extremists to target Black and brown voters, and further strain election workers.”
“SB 189 is a step back for voters’ rights and voting access in the state of Georgia,” Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia similarly said in a statement. “Most importantly, this bill will require already overburdened election workers to spend time processing unnecessary voter challenges.”

— Khaya Himmelman

RFK Jr. And The Parasite That Ate Part Of His Brain

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed that his doctors told him a parasite ate part of his brain, according to a report by The New York Times.

That sentence, which feels straight out of a sci-fi novel, is actually from a 2012 deposition Kennedy gave during divorce proceedings from his second wife. The 70-year-old now-Independent presidential candidate saw doctors in 2010 when he started experiencing memory loss and brain fog, according to the deposition. Several doctors concluded that his symptoms were due to a brain tumor. But as he was getting ready to have surgery to remove the tumor another doctor called him and said the spot on his brain scans that doctors diagnosed as a tumor “was caused by a worm that got into [his] brain and ate a portion of it and then died,” Kennedy reportedly said. 

“I have cognitive problems, clearly,” he added, according to The Times. “I have short-term memory loss, and I have longer-term memory loss that affects me.”

Despite his 2012 claims that he had difficulty with his long and short term memory, a spokesperson for Kennedy’s campaign told the Hill that the “issue was resolved more than 10 years ago, and he is in robust physical and mental health.”

“Questioning Mr. Kennedy’s health is a hilarious suggestion, given his competition,” the spokesperson said, pointing the finger at Biden and Trump. This has been the go-to strategy for the Kennedy campaign, which has been persistent in trying to portray Kennedy as the youthful and athletic substitute to Biden and Trump.

I’m no doctor but my brief stint in the neuroscience world leads me to believe it’s highly unlikely that you recover your memory if a parasite ate a part of your brain… regardless even at top notch health, marketing Kennedy as the option with mental acuity is wishful thinking at best.

— Emine Yücel

Words Of Wisdom

“We all know, intuitively, that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections. But it’s not been something that’s easily provable. We don’t have that number.”

That’s House Speaker Mike Johnson during a Wednesday press conference promoting a new bill that would outlaw people who are not U.S. citizens from voting in federal elections — aka it would make something that is already illegal, illegal. Just another day in the life of House GOPer wasting their time with messaging bills on made up problems. My colleague Khaya Himmelman explained the ins and outs of the new, imaginary MAGA problem this week — which has become an area of fixation for Trump allies as they lay the groundwork for Trump to challenge the election if he loses in the fall.

But put aside the ridiculousness of the bill itself, Johnson’s quote made it to this week’s words of wisdom because it’s a prime example of House Republicans’ flailing as they try to justify their, at best, useless actions. 

It takes me back to when they kept going on and on about all the evidence they had in the House’s Hunter Biden investigation, which ultimately and predictably never came to fruition. But apparently as long as they “intuitively” know… we’ll likely see many more of these.

— Emine Yücel

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