Tuesday ReadsPosted: May 11, 2021
Is there any possibility that Trump could actually be prosecuted? Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara thinks it could happen. He gave an interview to Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, published yesterday: How Close Are We to Criminal Charges for Donald Trump?
To the extent anyone thinks about Trump anymore, it’s gleefully imagining his criminal exposure in the after times, both in New York and elsewhere in the country. I gather he’s facing what, 29 lawsuits, three criminal investigations, like a lot.
A whole bunch.
His tax returns are in the hands of Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney of Manhattan. They’re working to flip folks in the Trump organization. I wonder what piece of that you’re watching or are you just watching all of it? What do you expect to see in terms of accountability and having some sense that there is some closure to any of this?
People often, particularly if they’re not lawyers, conflate some of these legal challenges that the former president faces with the civil cases. There’s not that much that we know about by way of criminal investigations. The one that we know about most directly and most prominently is the one you mentioned, the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into Trump’s finances and business dealings.
I don’t know because I’ve not been in the grand jury, I’ve not interviewed the witnesses. Cy Vance doesn’t call me up and tell me stuff, but there is some signaling going on. Cy Vance is not running for reelection. Vance is, as they say, a lame duck. As a lame duck, he’s done certain things, including hiring an outside forensic accounting firm, which is not super unusual but it’s not that common. He’s done something else that is less common, which is hire an outside lawyer, Mark Pomerantz, who’s a very distinguished, well-respected lawyer in New York. I’m not going to put too much weight on it, but it seems like the kind of move you make when you believe that there’s going to be a charge or there’s a good likelihood of a charge, because it’s a pretty public thing to do. It also risks alienating people in your own office. It’s just a gut feeling that I have that taking these actions indicates to me that that office believes there’s a decent likelihood of a charge, and so that’s the one I’d be watching.
It doesn’t sound farfetched to think, “Well, when it suited him, Donald Trump inflated the value of his holdings. Otherwise he understated the value of his holdings.” Both of which can incriminate him criminally and subject him to exposure. That all sounds like it makes sense. There’s also the reporting that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who was prosecuted by SDNY, has met with prosecutors and investigators with the DA’s office like a gazillion times.
All of those things, again, they’re not dispositive, but they all indicate to me that it’s a very serious undertaking. They’re taking it very seriously. They’re spending a lot of resources on it, and you don’t do that if it’s a long shot, I don’t think.
It’s a lengthy interview. Bharara goes on to discuss other possible ways that Trump could be held accountable.
There’s two categories of things that I think about. One is stuff we don’t know. I find it hard to believe we know the full scope and landscape of the things that Donald Trump did behind the scenes that were improper, unethical, and perhaps criminal because there’s not been an excavation. I don’t know if there are people who are thinking about doing that excavation, and I don’t know if there are people who are thinking about coming forward.
Trump still strikes fear in the hearts of people who would betray him—that’s elected officials and perhaps also people in his Cabinet. He hasn’t lost that power yet. I had assumed at some point that there might be the possibility of people coming forward and saying, “You don’t know the half of it.” You know, what he did with respect to DHS, what he did with respect to this, that, or the other thing, and how many other enforcement actions he tried to interfere with. There’s that category, the stuff we don’t know about, which I’ve just got to believe there is something there.
Then the other stuff that’s big ticket that happened out in the open for which there was an attempt to hold him accountable: the “Big Lie” of the election, his involvement in the incitement of the riot and the insurrection on Jan. 6, the stuff he did with the interference in the election in Georgia. I don’t know if he’ll get any accountability there. I don’t know that the administration has the interest and stomach to do something there, especially when there’s an interest in moving on.
Bharara says he agrees with the characterization of Trump as similar to a mob boss, and that makes it hard to prosecute him, because he gets people to do his bidding through coded communications. He also discusses Rudy Giuliani–his history and his current behavior.
CNN broke some news this morning about the Matt Gaetz case: Federal investigators press for cooperation from two key witnesses in Gaetz probe.
Federal investigators scrutinizing Rep. Matt Gaetz are seeking the cooperation of a former Capitol Hill intern who was once a girlfriend of the Florida Republican, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
Investigators could also soon gain the formal cooperation of a second key witness, former Florida county tax collector Joel Greenberg, who is approaching a deadline this week to strike a plea agreement with the government on more than two dozen charges he’s facing.
The pursuit of the cooperation comes as investigators are nearly finished collecting evidence, one source said. The probe, which is examining whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking, prostitution and public corruption laws and whether he had sex with a minor, has been ongoing for months.
But decisions on whether to charge Gaetz have yet to be made and will fall to prosecutors in the public integrity section of the Justice Department. That decision is likely to take some time, another source familiar with the matter said, as the Justice Department considers whether there’s sufficient evidence for an indictment.
The cooperation of Greenberg and the former girlfriend could be among the final steps in the probe of Gaetz. Investigators view both as crucial to understanding the relevance of hundreds of transactions they have obtained records of, including those involving payments for sex, sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN. The ex-girlfriend could also be questioned by investigators about a second woman as they try to determine whether Gaetz may have slept with that woman when she was only 17.
The former girlfriend, who did not work in Gaetz’s office on Capitol Hill, is of interest to investigators because she was on a trip Gaetz took to the Bahamas in 2018 and is believed to have knowledge of drug use and arrangements with women, the sources say.
Read more details at CNN.
There’s no evidence that people are refusing to look for work because they are getting increased unemployment benefits from the government, but Republican governors think they know better.
Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: Republican Governors Giddily Announce Plans to Kick People Off Unemployment.
It’s true that the GOP talks a big game about caring about regular old middle-class Americans, but in reality it despises them. How do we know this? For one thing, Republican policies overwhelmingly benefit corporate America and the very wealthy. For another, Republican lawmakers actively try to strip any government benefits they can from people not lucky enough to earn $200,000 a year at the age of three.
Most recently, a bunch of Republican governors have decided that the unemployed in their states are lazy bums who don’t deserve the increased federal benefits they’ve been receiving thanks to the American Rescue Plan, and that starting in June, they won’t. Per CBS News:
“A growing number of Republican-led states are rejecting increased unemployment benefits meant to help Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, a move they say will help business owners who can’t find staff.… [Officials] in Montana, South Carolina, and Arkansas have announced they will exit the program by the end of June. Montana governor Greg Gianforte said the “vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good.”
On Sunday, Utah governor Spencer Cox told CNN he thinks exiting pandemic-related unemployment benefits is a good idea, arguing the recent lower-than-expected jobs report is “what happens when we pay people not to work.””
If this argument sounds familiar, it‘s because it’s the same recycled one Republicans regularly make about how helping people in need will disincentive them from helping themselves. The only problem is that like most things out of the mouths of Republicans of late, it’s not actually true
“Several studies have examined the connection between benefits and unemployed people returning to work. In February, a study by JPMorgan Chase Institute found little evidence that increased benefits discouraged people from returning to the job. It found after Congress boosted supplemental insurance to $600 last spring at the onset of the pandemic, many jobless workers who received the money returned to work before the supplement expired.
Speaking at the White House press briefing Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also claimed data does not support the argument that increased unemployment benefits are leading to a workforce shortage. She said when they looked at states and sectors where supplemental benefits were high, there weren’t lower job finding rates as the argument would suggest, and in fact it was the “exact opposite.” A separate study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago looking at unemployment insurance and job searching using data from 2013 through 2019 found those receiving unemployment benefits search more intensely for work over those not receiving benefits and once benefits drop off, search efforts drop steeply.”
More from Joel Mathis at The Week: The war on the unemployed.
For the American economy to run properly, a certain portion of the working-age population must be poor and, preferably, a little bit desperate.
Or so you would think, given the hysterical reaction to last week’s report showing the country’s job growth lagged far behind expectations in April. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bouyed this message with a response suggesting workers have grown too fat and sassy while collecting unemployment benefits made more generous by Congress during the pandemic.
Best to cut off those benefits, instead.
“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” the organization said in a written statement. It added: “One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit.”
A few GOP-led states — Arkansas, Montana, and South Carolina — jumped at the Chamber’s suggestion, saying they will soon end their participation in the federal program that pays out the extra $300 a week to jobless workers. And Republicans in Congress said they would move quickly to phase out the benefit, which is already slated to end in September….
This hostility toward the unemployed will come as no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the more predatory aspects of American capitalism, or who recoiled last year when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) suggested that older COVID-vulnerable citizens should be willing to lay down their lives for the economy, or who noted that Republicans resisted supplementing unemployment benefits even at the beginning of the pandemic when the economy was contracting by millions of jobs and those who could keep working risked exposure to a dangerous and deadly new virus. Even then, GOP officials were fearful that workers would find it too easy to sit at home.
There’s much more worth reading at the link.
Speaking of misinformation, have you heard that musician Van Morrison has become a Covid conspiracy nut?
The Los Angeles Times: What happened to Van Morrison? The fall from eccentric genius to conspiracy theorist.
Outside of the circles of his most dedicated fans, the arrival of a Van Morrison album in the 21st century has not been a news event. That trend stopped last week, however, when Morrison, 75, released “Latest Record Project, Vol. 1,” a 28-track double album that includes eyebrow-raising song titles such as “Where Have All the Rebels Gone,” “Why Are You on Facebook?” and “Stop Bitching, Do Something.” This album is now very much news: Variety published a list of “The 10 Craziest Lyrics” from the record, while the Jerusalem Post rounded up all of the claims of anti-Semitism implied in his song called “They Own the Media” and other lyrics scattered throughout.
This turn toward the alt-right didn’t come out of nowhere. Broadly speaking, Morrison’s career arc looks something like this: He went from being a brash teenage wunderkind with his band Them, to a promising young solo artist (“Brown Eyed Girl”), to a moody, soulful poet casually creating masterpieces (“Astral Weeks” and “Moondance”), to a middle-aged curmudgeon showcasing occasional moments of brilliance (“Common One”), until he slowly devolved into a boozy-uncle type, cranking out boilerplate blues LPs while leaning on his earlier legacy to fill concert halls….
More recently, the global coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing prohibition of live concerts appear to have shocked and infuriated the singer. In August 2020, Morrison published a screed on his official website explaining that he needed to get his “band up and running and out of the doldrums. … We need to be playing to full capacity audiences going forward.” In a subsequently deleted message, he went further, denouncing the validity of the science behind social distancing and quarantine. “I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.”
Back in the fall of 2020, Morrison announced three topical singles protesting COVID-19 restrictions plus a petition to end the temporary ban on live concerts. In one of these songs, “No More Lockdown,” he crooned about scientists “making up crooked facts,” labeling the perpetrators of these measures “fascist bullies.” In an unprecedented turn of events, the songs became cause for Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, to pen an op-ed for Rolling Stone, calling Morrison’s new lyrics “dangerous” and a great comfort to “the tinfoil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms.”
Read the rest at the LA Times.
I’ll add a few more stories in the comment thread. I hope you all have a great Tuesday!