The Stormy Scales Of Justice

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

It’s not every weekend I get to greet you in the wake of the first criminal conviction of a former president in American history. 

If you weren’t feverishly following TPM’s coverage in the weeks and moments leading up to and after the verdict — guilty on all 34 counts — was read, be sure to catch up here⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠

I’ll let my colleague Josh Kovensky — who spent the last six grueling weeks setting 4:00 am ET alarms, sweating and shivering simultaneously in the courthouse media room, typing like a madman and delivering smart, completely unmatched coverage of the trial — take it from here.

Here’s what TPM has on tap this weekend:

  • Josh Kovensky shares some reflections from covering the historic trial and conviction of Donald Trump, and debunks the “rigged” trial talking points that Trump and his allies have been spewing since moments after the verdict was read.  
  • Kate Riga weighs in on FlagGate, Senate Democrats’ approach to oversight and Martha Ann Alito’s apparent penchant for vexillology.
  • Khaya Himmelman looks into whether Trump can vote as a felon in Florida, his new home state. 
  • Emine Yücel unpacks the latest remarks from Trump Spokesperson Mike Johnson (R-LA).

Let’s dig in. 

— Nicole Lafond

The Stormy Scales Of Justice

As soon as Judge Merchan announced on Thursday that the jury had reached a verdict, you could feel the collective heart rates of those in the room skyrocket. Court security officers appeared out of nowhere; a dull roar began to waft up from the crowds outside of the building.

It was a long road to get to that point. Most of the reporters who had covered the trial waited hours each morning to enter the courthouse. The building itself alternated between stiflingly hot and extremely cold, with court security randomly giving and then taking away the right to eat in the hallway.

And while a few weeks at the beginning of the trial saw diminished interest (I was able to show up at 7:00 a.m. ET for Keith Davidson’s testimony), that changed once Stormy Daniels appeared. That’s when multi-day waits for members of the public began, and regular 5:00 a.m. ET start times for members of the press. A small secondary market in line-waiting developed toward the end of the trial, with prices going into the upper hundreds of dollars or more to pay for someone to hold your spot.

Covering it felt like completing a marathon — exhaustion peaked towards the end, held in abeyance only by the excitement of nearing the finish line.

Amid all of that, my fundamental impression is that Trump got a fair shake. His attorneys had an opportunity to shape the jury pool; they used it. The result was a jury featuring people who expressed ambivalence about politics generally or positivity about Trump’s policies specifically. Judge Merchan removed potential jurors who had expressed negative opinions about Trump on social media.

Throughout testimony, Merchan went out of his way to rule in the defense’s favor on gray area issues. He lost his temper a few times. One was when the former President repeatedly violated a gag order; another was when Bob Costello, a defense witness, was openly hostile to and defiant of Merchan. As the trial wore on, it seemed to me that Merchan ruled more often in favor of the defense than not. He chastised them at one point for not being more active in their use of objections.

We’re already hearing a lot about how the trial was unfair and that the judge was in the tank for Trump. That is just fundamentally not true. The trial was fair; Trump had his day in court.

What’s telling to me in this is that some of the more reality-based conservatives spend less time on the inherent bias of the trial, and instead on criticizing Trump himself and his influence on the defense. Attorney Todd Blanche said last night that Trump wanted to be a “litigator;” that led to a series of tactical moves that were disastrous for the defense.

But even that isn’t the core of the criticism from the MAGA right. What they seem to really hold in contempt with Merchan is, in fact, how he applied the law: fairly and indifferently. You can’t argue with that; all you can do is chip away.

— Josh Kovensky

Durbin, Whitehouse Do Supreme Court Oversight Via Snail Mail

The revelation that the Alitos hung not one, but two flags indicating support for Donald Trump’s Stop the Steal movement (due to Martha Ann’s apparent penchant for vexillology, to hear her Justice husband tell it), set off a flurry of letters. 

From Senate Judiciary Democrats Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to Chief Justice John Roberts. From Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts back to the two. 

The communication method, quaint, dated, slow, ineffective, encapsulates Senate Democrats’ approach to oversight of the least restrained, most reactive, arguably most powerful branch of government. The two senators demanded that Alito recuse himself from the Trump immunity case, as well as one centered on an obstruction charge used against a Jan. 6 rioter (the outcome of which will likely ripple into Jack Smith’s larger case against Trump). Alito, backed by Roberts, said no. It’s Alito’s call, Roberts said, and no he, the Chief, would rather not come to the Hill to discuss it, but thank you very much. 

Alito mustered less politeness, twice accusing the senators of wanting to swing the outcome of the cases in question. 

“I am confident that a reasonable person who is not motivated by political or ideological considerations or a desire to affect the outcome of Supreme Court cases would conclude that the events recounted above do not meet the applicable standard for recusal,” he seethed. 

So…now what? As shocking as it is that a letter writing campaign didn’t move the needle, it seems to be about all Senate Democrats can muster — despite the obvious political upside of dragging out an organic scandal in which the conservatives on the Court, some of the easiest villains for their party leader (who IS UP FOR REELECTION) to run against, are revealed to be naked partisans.

This exercise gets tiresome, but it’s so painfully easy to imagine the speed of the mobilization of the political right if, say, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s husband was found to have hung a pro-“Antifa” flag outside their house. Or even a pro-Biden flag! I can tell you one thing — if she went to any even mildly lefty outlet to clean up the story (a lá Alito’s scampering to his favorite Fox News host), it would be its own mini-scandal. 

Republicans would hold endless hearings, subpoena Sotomayor, use their (admittedly, lopsided) media ecosystem to get the story nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage. It would be an enormous election year gift. Hell, Republicans don’t even need a scandal that exists outside their own inflamed imaginations to behave this way (see: everything James Comer has done in his illustrious tenure as House Oversight chair).

Durbin’s oversight has been limp and uncreative. He seems to physically squirm when he leaves the comfortable realm of bipartisan backslapping. It’s a mystery why he fought so hard for the job, when Whitehouse wanted it badly. 

And it’s more than a missed opportunity to eke just the tiniest bit of accountability from the enrobed, unelected gods who exert awesome influence over American life. It also complicates Democrats’ political case to voters re: why they deserve the majority again next term.

The one (also, frustratingly, unargued) ray of hope here might be what Supreme Court oversight looks like in the hands of Democrats who are less enchanted by their cushy, low-conflict environs. It’s hard to see a Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) so languidly watching the meatball sail over the plate.

— Kate Riga

Can Trump Still Vote?

Although Donald Trump is a convicted felon following the verdict in the New York hush money case, election experts note that the former president might still be able to vote in Florida in the upcoming presidential election. 

It all depends on whether or not Trump is sentenced to prison in New York state, which remains unclear until his sentencing later this summer. 

Back in 2018, Florida voters approved a ballot measure that would restore voting rights to convicted felons. But after the measure passed, Republicans in the state legislature swooped in and passed ​​legislation limiting which formerly incarcerated people can vote in the state. 

According to Florida law, if convicted in Florida, a voter would need to fully complete their sentence prior to having their voting rights restored. However, if convicted in another state, as is the case for Trump in New York, a person’s eligibility to vote in Florida depends on whether or not they have been disenfranchised in the state in which they were convicted.

According to the Florida Divisions of Elections, a felony conviction in another state would make a voter ineligible to vote in Florida “only if the conviction would make the person ineligible to vote in the state where the person was convicted.”

In an interview with TPM, Michael Morely, law professor at Florida State University, explained that Florida’s state constitution and the state election code’s voter disqualification provisions, in his words “apply to people who have been convicted of a felony in another state.”

“​​In such cases, a person’s eligibility to vote in Florida would depend on whether they would be disqualified from registering to vote in the state where they were convicted,” Morely said. “My understanding of New York law is that a person convicted of a felony does not become ineligible to vote unless they are actually incarcerated, rather than being sentenced to a fine, probation, or a suspended sentence.”

Per a 2021 New York law, a convicted felon remains eligible to vote so long as they are not incarcerated. “If he is not sentenced to prison, then he should remain eligible to vote in Florida,” Morely added. 

Blair Bowie, director of Restore your Vote with the Campaign Legal Center, similarly told NBC News that “the only way he wouldn’t be able to vote is if he is in prison on Election Day.”

— Khaya Himmelman

Words Of Wisdom

“I do believe the Supreme Court should step in. Obviously. This is totally unprecedented and it’s dangerous to our system… think that the Justices on the Court — I know many of them personally — I think they are deeply concerned about that, as we are. So I think they’ll set this straight…”

That’s House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) reacting to Trump’s conviction in the New York hush money trial.

Once again the MAGA House speaker is (intentionally or unintentionally) acting as a pseudo spokesperson for Trump.

One can make the assumption that Trump’s Friday press conference was scheduled to make a similar argument in an effort to delegitimize the trial and its outcome. But well… instead we heard from a disheveled-looking Trump as he tried to take us through a vaguely recognizable but extremely muddied version of the greatest-hits list of his grievances.

Trump and his legal team have said they will appeal the verdict reached by the Manhattan jury. Though it is unclear yet whether they’d take it all the way up to the Supreme Court. 

— Emine Yücel

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Notable Replies

  1. Fuck Magic Mike.

  2. Josh Kovensky is a journalist with integrity.

  3. Instead of trump’s name on his tombstone the word “rigged” should be there. It’s his fav word.

  4. Good job by Kate Riga in her brutal assessment of Durbin and how he’s addressing oversight of a corrupted scotus.

    Durbin’s oversight has been limp and uncreative. He seems to physically squirm when he leaves the comfortable realm of bipartisan backslapping.

    And she finishes nicely with

    It’s hard to see a Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) so languidly watching the meatball sail over the plate.

    Well done, Kate.

  5. What stops Trump from filing some wackadoo emergency petition with the SC after his sentencing in July? And if he does, what stops four justices from agreeing to hear his case?

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