Monday Reads: Sunshine on a Cloudy DayPosted: January 16, 2023
Good Day, Sky Dancers!
There are some interesting articles and analyses today so let’s get started!
Jessica Levinson at MSNBC has this to say about the classified documents and the media’s false equivalencies between the last two presidents. ” Investigations into classified docs should leave Trump more worried than Biden. Don’t focus on the headlines in the investigations into classified documents held by Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Focus on the details.”
There’s a line in an old song that goes, “Lawyers dwell on small details.” It’s true. The law is all about details. From one perspective, two cases may appear similar, but depending on the details, they can be very different.”
Classified documents were found at the offices and homes of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden from the time he was vice president. In November Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Thursday, after reports that classified documents from his vice presidency had been found at Biden’s home and office, Garland appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate that matter.
So far, the stories look similar. Neither Biden nor Trump should have been in possession of classified documents after they left office. These are the people’s documents, not theirs.
But because the law concerns itself with details, not headlines, the similarities mostly stop there.
As a former president, Trump might be indicted, but perhaps the most important reason Biden is unlikely to face indictment or criminal prosecution is he’s currently president. As we know all too well from the four years of the Trump administration, the Justice Department has a policy against indicting sitting presidents. An opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, a division of the Justice Department, provides that charging the president with a crime would “unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”
The GOP now controls the House of Representatives, and we know members of that party have been raring to go to investigate and possibly impeach Biden. But impeaching Biden for possessing classified documents would be improper for two reasons. First, there is a good argument to be made that people can only be impeached for misconduct committed while in office. Biden’s retention of classified documents occurred after he left the vice presidency and before he assumed the presidency. Second, impeachment is only available when the subject of the impeachment has engaged in “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
After a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant.
For reasons discussed below, Biden’s conduct is unlikely to be characterized as criminal, even if he weren’t the sitting president. There is also plenty of reason to believe that Trump will or at least ought to be. Consider what each did after being alerted that he might be in possession of classified documents.
Trump reportedly ignored multiple requests from the National Archives for those documents, and after a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant. Prosecutors have also argued that Trump’s team tried to hide the documents found at Mar-a-Lago before and after the subpoena was issued.
Reportedly, in Biden’s case, the White House counsel alerted the National Archives as soon as classified documents were found at Biden’s former office in November. The National Archives didn’t ask; Biden’s team offered.
Then that team searched for any additional documents that belonged to the government. It found additional files at Biden’s residence in December and more last week, before the White House announced Saturday that additional documents had been found Thursday. The Biden story is one of cooperation, not obstruction.
The contrast was muddied this weekend in the Sunday Shows. There’s an outline of what various Congressional Representatives said at Politico written by Eugene Daniels. “POLITICO Playbook: Three storylines to watch in Biden’s document drama.” Evidently, some Republicans still believe that someone that obviously obstructed the return of stolen documents deserves the same treatment as one that immediately notified the Archives of their existence and fully cooperated.
GOP investigations are inevitable, and they will be ferocious. Rep. JAMES COMER (R-Ky.), the newly minted chair of the House Oversight Committee, released a statement yesterday hammering Biden and promising an investigation.
“Many questions need to be answered but one thing is certain: oversight is coming,” Comer said. “The Biden White House’s secrecy in this matter is alarming. Equally alarming is the fact that Biden aides were combing through documents knowing there would be a Special Counsel appointed.”
Comer is now requesting additional documents and communications “related to the searches of President Joe Biden’s homes and other locations by Biden aides for classified documents, as well as the visitor log of the president’s Wilmington, Delaware, home from January 20, 2021 to present,” per CNN’s Daniella Diaz.
The exchange of the morning came as Comer appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, which offered a preview of how Republicans will approach the issue, especially vis-a-vis Trump.
Tapper: “Do you only care about classified documents being mishandled when Democrats do the mishandling?”
Comer: “Absolutely not. … At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn’t the classified documents, to be honest with you. My concern is there’s such a discrepancy between how President Trump was treated … versus Joe Biden.” Watch the video
The Washington Post has an exclusive today. “New details link George Santos to cousin of sanctioned Russian oligarch. The New York congressman once claimed Andrew Intrater’s company was his “client,” while another Intrater company allegedly made a deposit with a firm where Santos worked. Isaac Stanley-Becker and Rosalind S. Helderman share the byline.
George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied about his biography, has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a onetime Trump confidant and who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch, according to video footage and court documents.
Andrew Intrater and his wife each gave the maximum $5,800 to Santos’ main campaign committee and tens of thousands more since 2020 to committees linked to him, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Intrater’s cousin is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the Russian energy industry.
The relationship between Santos and Intrater goes beyond campaign contributions, according to a statement made privately by Santos in 2020 and a court filing the following year in a lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against a Florida-based investment firm, Harbor City Capital, where Santos worked for more than a year.
Taken together, the evidence suggests Santos may have had a business relationship with Intrater as Santos was first entering politics in 2020. It also shows, according to the SEC filing, that Intrater put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Santos’ onetime employer, Harbor City, which was accused by regulators of running a Ponzi scheme. Neither Santos nor Intrater responded to requests for comment. Attorneys who have represented Intrater also did not respond.
And speaking of “business dealings,” this is from DAWN. “U.S.: Investigate New Evidence of President Trump’s Business Dealings with MBS . Multimillion-dollar payments from LIV Golf, Reportedly 93% owned by MBS-Controlled Fund, to Trump Golf Resorts Raise Serious Questions about Conflict of Interest, Threats to National Security.”
The U.S. Department of Justice and Congress should investigate the disturbing facts and circumstances surrounding payments by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), via its wholly-owned LIV Golf company, to businesses owned by former President Donald Trump, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
On January 13, 2023, Elliot Peters, a name partner at Keker, a prominent San Francisco law firm, who is lead counsel to the PGA in the players’ lawsuit, inadvertently revealed in a court proceeding that PIF owns 93% of LIV Golf, pays for all of its events, and holds all of the entity’s financial risk. PIF’s chairman is Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), who has absolute and final decision-making control over the fund. LIV Golf is a newly established golf tournament franchise that has emerged as a rival to PGA Golf. It has paid Trump-owned golf resorts unknown millions of dollars to hold its events there, and former President Trump has publicly championed the new league, made prominent appearances at its events, and urged PGA players to sign on with LIV Golf.
“The revelation that a fund controlled by Crown Prince MBS actually owns almost all of LIV Golf means that MBS has been paying Donald Trump unknown millions for the past two years, via their mutual corporate covers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. “The national security implications of payments from a grotesquely abusive foreign dictator to a president of the United States who provided extraordinary favors to him are as dangerous as they are shocking.”
The information about LIV Golf was otherwise kept sealed in the secret shareholder agreement between PIF and LIV Golf, although LIV Golf had previously disclosed that the PIF was its majority shareholder. There has been no independent verification of the ownership percentages reportedly revealed in court. It is not known who owns the other seven percent of LIV Golf. LIV Golf Players and LIV Golf have sued PGA for suspending PGA players who have signed contracts with LIV Golf, and PGA has sued LIV Golf and the PIF for interfering with its players’ contracts. MBS is the chairman of PIF and has absolute decision-making power over its investments.
There is little doubt that MBS controls the PIF with as much absolute power as he controls the rest of the country, with final decision-making on all of PIF’s investments. When PIF’s advisory panel objected to PIF’s $2 billion investment in Trump’s son-in-law’s newly established fund, Affinity Partners, MBS reportedly vetoed the objections to proceed with the controversial investment as the only investor in a start-up fund that had no track record. Following DAWN’s demand for Congress to investigate this investment, as well as the $1 billion PIF investment in Trump’s former Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s newly established fund, Senator Warren announced she would commence an investigation into conflict of interest breaches and ethics law violations that bar solicitation of foreign government officials while in office.
“Former President Trump made no secret of the endless favors he granted MBS and Saudi Arabia during his term in office, from his first state visit to the country, to vetoing legislation that would have banned arms sales to the country, to protecting MBS by hiding the CIA’s report concluding MBS ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” said Whitson. “It now appears that like his son-in-law and treasury secretary, Trump is cashing in his chits with MBS for all these favors.”
DAWN stands for Democracy for the Arab World Now. It’s an advocacy group founded by Jamal Khashoggi, an American Journalist brutally murdered at the request of MBS in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
Further down the Republican food chain, we have this headline by Caleb Newton writing for Bipartisan Report:. “Legal Action Against Ron DeSantis For Migrant Trafficking Upheld By Judge.”
Florida Judge John C. Cooper has upheld a lawsuit filed in his personal capacity by a Democratic state Senator from the south of the state challenging the legal framework GOP Governor Ron DeSantis used for transports last year of migrants from Texas to a community in Massachusetts.
The trip, which was evidently facilitated without any prior notice to local leaders or members of the community where the migrants arrived, although residents quickly mobilized to help those involved, mirrored high-profile efforts by other Republican governors. That list includes Greg Abbott of Texas, whose administration was responsible for a trip that saw migrants arrive in temperatures below freezing outside the D.C. residence of the vice president on Christmas Eve. With the trip for which DeSantis was responsible and other ventures, concerns have also circulated about potential deception targeting those the organizers were trying to cajole into joining the voluntary trips, including about basic facts like the eventual destination.
In Florida, the case from Democrat Jason Pizzo challenges the process by which the state set aside $12 million for the transport of migrants. Also at issue in general has been that the transports designated for support by those funds originate in Florida, but the migrants the DeSantis team ferried to Massachusetts started their trek in Texas, although the venture made a brief stop of under an hour in Florida itself. Pizzo argues a new initiative of the substance seen in something like the funds for transports for migrants requires a separate legislative effort rather than mere inclusion in routine budgeting.
The Miami Herald noted the state team argued the budgetary provisions were actually just expanding on a law imposing restrictions on state partnerships with individuals transporting certain migrants into Florida unless detaining or removing those individuals from Florida or the United States. The thing is — that other law was signed after the budget, so no argument about the two building off each other would inherently solve the fact that such isn’t how time works.
Cooper scheduled the trial in Pizzo’s case to start at the end of this month, on January 30. The DeSantis team specifically — and unsuccessfully — sought the case’s dismissal. Separately, the Florida governor has already faced a raft of other scrutiny over the endeavor, including confirmation from the oversight official known as an inspector general at the federal Treasury Department that they would be looking at DeSantis’s usage of interest derived from federal relief funds connected to COVID-19 for the flights. That official spoke to the situation after an inquiry from members of the Congressional delegation from Massachusetts.
Nothing like a bit of sunshine on a cloudy day.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?