Thursday Reads: A Reckoning is Coming for Trump

Good Afternoon!!

It’s really happening, folks. Last night we got another sign that Merrick Garland’s DOJ is likely to indict Donald Trump. The news broke around 9PM Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal that Trump insider Kash Patel has been given limited use immunity and will now have to testify to the grand jury in the stolen documents case. This means he won’t be prosecuted for anything he testifies to truthfully, but he can be prosecuted if he lies.

Lawrence Tribe predicted this last month when The New York Times published a story about the DOJ trying to get testimony from Patel and another Trump aide Walt Nauta, who was involved in moving boxes of documents out of the storage area at Mar-a-Lago.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article from last night: Trump Aide, Granted Immunity, Set to Testify at Grand Jury Probing Mar-a-Lago Documents.

Kash Patel, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, is set to soon testify before a federal grand jury probing the handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after receiving immunity for his information, people familiar with the matter said.

A federal judge recently decided the Justice Department couldn’t force Mr. Patel to testify without such protection against his statements being used against him in some future prosecution. That ruling, the people said, opens the door for Mr. Patel, who says Mr. Trump broadly declassified White House documents while still president, to answer questions.

Mr. Patel appeared before the grand jury last month and refused to provide information by repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, The Wall Street Journal reported.

H9-kash-patel

Kash Patel

In response, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to compel him to testify. Prosecutors argued Mr. Patel had no reasonable expectation that he would be prosecuted based on the kinds of questions they were asking, one of the people said, an argument the judge didn’t accept.

The immunity grant leaves the government only able to charge Mr. Patel, if at all, using information obtained independently of his immunized testimony.

That’s because Patel is just a small fish, and the DOJ is going after a much bigger fish–Trump himself.

Other Trump associates involved in the Mar-a-Lago documents matter also have been offered some form of immunity, people familiar with the matter said, including one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb, who declined, saying she didn’t need it.

Mr. Patel, a former White House and Pentagon aide whom Mr. Trump late in his term considered naming to top positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI, has asserted publicly since May that Mr. Trump broadly declassified documents when he left the White House in January 2021. His comments first came as the Justice Department’s efforts to retrieve the documents from Mar-a-Lago were intensifying and the same month prosecutors issued a grand jury subpoena for their return.

Prosecutors asked Mr. Patel about that claim and an array of other topics, including some that had nothing to do with Mr. Trump or the material discovered at Mar-a-Lago, one of the people said.

Investigators have spoken to a number of other people, including close aides to the former president, since the probe began.

I didn’t encounter a paywall when I opened this WSJ story from a link on Memeorandum.

This is from a New York Times article on this new development:

The disclosure that Mr. Patel has received immunity for his testimony comes as prosecutors have increased their pressure on recalcitrant witnesses who have declined to answer investigators’ questions or have provided them with potentially misleading accounts about Mr. Trump’s handling of documents.

Prosecutors have indicated they are skeptical of the level of cooperation they have gotten from a little-known Trump aide named Walt Nauta, who has provided the authorities with different accounts about whether he moved documents stored at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The authorities are using the specter of charges against him for misleading investigators to persuade him to sit again for questioning.

The prosecutors want to question Mr. Patel about an array of matters related to the documents. Among them is an unsubstantiated claim Mr. Patel has publicly made in recent months that Mr. Trump had declassified national security documents he took when he left the White House….

Mr. Patel has long been a part of efforts to fight off the Justice Department investigations into Mr. Trump and his allies. Earlier this year, as officials were pushing Mr. Trump to return records he had taken to Mar-a-Lago when he left office, Mr. Trump made him one of his representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration to deal with his records.

Legal experts say prosecutors try to avoid giving witnesses immunity, especially in high-profile cases, because it makes it much more difficult to prosecute the individual who received it. But prosecutors often ask a judge to grant it when they are confronted with a witness who has information that they believe is essential to completing the investigation….

Mr. Patel has increased his influence with Mr. Trump since the end of the presidency, maintaining his criticisms of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 campaign.

Earlier this year, Mr. Patel told associates that he was expected to take on an even more central role in Mr. Trump’s legal defenses, currently coordinated by another Trump adviser, Boris Epshteyn, according to a person familiar with his comments.

There’s also big news on the investigation of Trump’s involvement in the investigation of efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Yesterday Politico obtained the 8 emails that Trump attorney John Eastman has been fighting to keep from the January 6 Committee and they are damning.

From the Politico article: Trump lawyers saw Justice Thomas as ‘only chance’ to stop 2020 election certification.

Donald Trump’s attorneys saw a direct appeal to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as their best hope of derailing Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election, according to emails newly disclosed to congressional investigators.

“We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt,” Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro wrote in a Dec. 31, 2020, email to Trump’s legal team. Chesebro contended that Thomas would be “our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress.”

“I think I agree with this,” attorney John Eastman replied later that morning, suggesting that a favorable move by Thomas or other justices would “kick the Georgia legislature into gear” to help overturn the election results.

Trump lawyer Kevin Chesebro

Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro

The messages were part of a batch of eight emails — obtained by POLITICO — that Eastman had sought to withhold from the Jan. 6 select committee but that a judge ordered turned over anyway, describing them as evidence of likely crimes committed by Eastman and Trump. They were transmitted to the select committee by Eastman’s attorneys last week, but remained largely under wraps until early Wednesday morning….

Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters arising out of Georgia and would have been the one to receive any urgent appeal of Trump’s lawsuit to the Supreme Court — a fact that seemed to be part of the Trump legal team’s calculus.

Rulings from so-called circuit justices are typically stopgap measures aimed at preserving the status quo until the full Supreme Court weighs in, but the Trump lawyers hoped a favorable order from Thomas would embolden state GOP-controlled legislatures, Congress — or then-Vice President Mike Pence — to block final certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

“[I]f we can just get this case pending before the Supreme Court by Jan. 5, ideally with something positive written by a judge or justice, hopefully Thomas, I think it’s our best shot at holding up the count of a state in Congress,” Chesebro said.

There’s even more crazy stuff from Chesebro:

In one scenario, Chesebro proposed encouraging Senate Republicans to filibuster long enough to delay the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, ignoring limitations on the length of debate. He also described how Trump allies could use inaction by the courts to build political pressure against Biden’s inauguration.

“Hard to have enormous optimism about what will happen on Jan. 6, but a lot can happen in the 13 days left until then, and I think having as many states still under review (both judicially and in state legislatures) as possible is ideal,” Chesebro wrote Trump campaign attorney Justin Clark on Dec. 24, 2020. It’s unclear how or whether Clark responded to Chesebro’s message.

The New York-based lawyer has been scrutinized by the Jan. 6 select committee, as well as prosecutors in Fulton County, Ga., who are investigating Trump’s efforts to subvert the election there.

Read more and see the emails at Politico.

There’s a very interesting piece at New York Magazine today by Ankush Khardori: The Secret Court Battle That Threatens Trump After Election Day. Prosecutors are obtaining potentially crucial testimony about January 6.

https://twitter.com/NYMag/status/1588143351253159936?s=20&t=0jL5j6PFFd0McENHeAYidw

As the midterm campaigns draw to a close, so too may an informal détente between Donald Trump and federal prosecutors since the search of Mar-a-Lago in August. While both sides fight in court, the Justice Department has probably refrained from taking major steps in the key investigations into his possession of classified documents and the attack on the U.S. Capitol in order to avoid influencing the elections.

During this relative down period, however, the department has reportedly been fighting an opaque and largely secret legal battle in the January 6 investigation that could constitute its most significant development to date. It could open a floodgate of damaging information about Trump or provide the department with crucial clarity about his conduct with respect to the riot and the effort to overturn the election results beyond what the public has learned so far. Like the search at Mar-a-Lago, this reflects an apparent change in posture at the Justice Department in recent months under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who chose not to focus on Trump’s potential criminal misconduct when he took office last year despite ample reason to do so.

And thus far, the Justice Department appears to be winning.

In recent weeks, according to a variety of news reports, prosecutors successfully compelled grand-jury testimony in Washington, D.C., from two key witnesses over the objections of Trump — Greg Jacob, a onetime lawyer for former vice-president Mike Pence who blamed the shoddy legal arguments advanced by Trump lawyer John Eastman for the outrageous violence at the Capitol, and Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff. The proceedings are under seal for the moment, but they are being handled at the district-court level by Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who has so far rejected Trump’s legal challenges. In at least Short’s case, Trump’s lawyers reportedly sought an expedited appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rebuffed them. The Justice Department is now reportedly seeking a similar ruling from Howell that would force testimony — again over Trump’s objections — from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin.

All of the court disputes appear to center on Trump’s effort to invoke executive privilege to block top officials in his White House from providing testimony that might incriminate him. As CNN noted, the recent testimony from Jacob was “the first identifiable time when the confidentiality Trump had tried to maintain around the West Wing after the 2020 election has been pierced in the criminal probe following a court battle.” The fight is not over: There is apparently still a pending appeal at the D.C. Circuit and likely more litigation before Howell as things continue to play out and additional witnesses are called in, and at some point, Trump could seek the involvement of the Supreme Court to try to bail him out.

At first blush, this may seem like a fight among lawyers with esoteric stakes concerning the scope of executive privilege, but there are significant consequences if the Justice Department successfully continues down this path. Prosecutors could obtain fulsome information about what Trump himself (as opposed to the people around him) was actually saying and doing in the run-up to and during the January 6 siege.

Read the rest at the link. The gist is that prosecutors are moving closer to actually holding Trump accountable.

More interesting stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: Biden warns GOP could set nation on ‘path to chaos’ as democratic system faces strain.

The Washington Post: Oath Keeper Rhodes had violent message for Trump after Jan. 6, witness says.

Reuters: U.S. Capitol Police to conduct internal review over missed camera images of Pelosi attack.

Will Oremus at The Washington Post: Musk’s Trump-style management rattles Twitter workers awaiting layoffs.

Insider: Elon Musk’s Twitter has identified thousands of employees who will be laid off, representing about 50% of the company’s workforce.

The Guardian: Twitter exodus: company faces murky future as top managers flee the nest.

Please share your thoughts on these stories and anything else you’re interested in and have a great Thursday!


Lazy Saturday Reads: What Does the Allen Weisselberg Immunity Deal Mean?

Summer Afternoon (Tea in the Garden), Théo van Rysselberghe

Good Afternoon!!

This has been a disastrous week for Trump. The Guardian summarizes: Trump’s terrible week: stunning news and whispers of impeachment.

…even by the standards of the Trump universe, this week has been a blur. And at its heart was a single, devastating hour on Tuesday 21 August that effectively turned the president of the United States into an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal crime….

…first, there was Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s lawyer, the former New York mayor, set the tone last Sunday with an Orwellian comment on the NBC network’s Meet the Press. Asked whether the president would give his version of events in testimony to Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Giuliani warned of a perjury trap and said: “Truth isn’t truth.”

Monday passed with just an embarrassing White House event to celebrate ICE during which Trump

…said that a border patrol agent, who is Latino, “speaks perfect English” as he beckoned him to the stage. He also misstated the acronym for US Customs and Border Protection at least eight times, referring to it as “CBC”, as in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Tuesday, the shit really hit the fan.

But then came, to use primary election parlance, Super Tuesday. At around 4.30pm, in courtrooms 200 miles apart, a pair of Trump associates delivered a one-two punch that stunned the White House and revived whispers of impeachment.

In New York, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen implicated the president in a crime to influence the 2016 presidential election. Pleading guilty to dodging taxes and campaign finance violations, he alleged that Trump directed him to pay hush money to prevent two women – a Playboy model and pornographic actor – speaking out about extramarital affairs.

In Alexandria, Virginia, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty of eight tax and bank fraud charges and could now spend the rest of his life behind bars – unless Trump chooses to pardon him.

On Wednesday morning, Fox aired Trump’s interview in which he claimed that the campaign finance violations Cohen had pleaded guilty to were not crimes and that it should be illegal for people accused of crimes to turn states evidence in order to reduce their sentences. Then on Wednesday night he watched Tucker Carlson’s show.

There he saw a spurious Tucker Carlson report pushing a white nationalist conspiracy theory that white farmers in South Africa are being persecuted and murdered in Zimbabwe-style land grabs. Trump tweeted his outrage and promised to consult the state department, whose own human rights report on South Africa had made no mention of the issue.

It was one more white grievance dog whistle to add to all the rest. The South African government issued a swift rebuke and summoned US officials. Patrick Gaspard, the former US ambassador to South Africa, described the intervention as “astounding and deeply disturbing”. He said: “I can draw a line from the irresponsible statements he made in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and him lifting up tropes from white nationalists in South Africa.”

On Thursday,

It emerged that David Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc, which owns the pro-Trump National Enquirer, had been granted immunity to provide information about Cohen and Trump’s involvement with payments to the two women who allege sexual affairs. The Associated Press added fuel to the fire by reporting thatthe Enquirer kept such secrets locked in a safe, lending it extraordinary power.

That night, the New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office was considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with one of the hush money payments.

The coup de grâce came with the news that Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization had been given immunity to testify against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Clearly the news about Weisselberg is the most damaging to Trump, but it’s not clear exactly kind of immunity the long-time “financial gatekeeper” has. According the The New York Times, it’s limited to the case against Cohen .

The person briefed on the deal said that it was narrow in scope, protecting Mr. Weisselberg from self-incrimination in sharing information with prosecutors about Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to tax and campaign finance charges. The latter charges stemmed from payments during the campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. It was not, the person said, a blanket immunity extending beyond the information he shared, and Mr. Weisselberg remains in his job at the Trump Organization.

Allen Weisselberg

Mr. Weisselberg figured into the charges filed against Mr. Cohen this week, having facilitated the processing of what prosecutors described as “sham invoices” at the Trump Organization, through which Mr. Cohen was reimbursed for the money he had paid to quiet one of the women alleging an affair with Mr. Trump, the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford.

It sounds like it’s use immunity, which protects Weisselberg from being prosecuted based on the specific information he provided about the hush money deals. It’s likely that Weisselberg indicated he would take the fifth and prosecutors used immunity to force him to talk. Weisselberg could still be charged with a crime if investigators find independent evidence that he was involved in criminal activities. If he’s eventually charged with a crime, Weisselberg might agree to cooperate fully with prosecutors, but so far that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Nevertheless, the fact that prosecutors have gotten testimony from the man who supposedly “knows where the bodies are buried” in the Trump Organization is huge. And some knowledgeable writers are claiming Weisselberg has agreed to cooperate fully and are speculating about what he could reveal about Trump.

On Twitter, Renato Mariotti says he would be surprised if Weisselberg only got use immunity.

Obviously he knows a hell of a lot more than I do.

Luppe B. Luppen (AKA @NYCsouthpaw) and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News: For Trump, Allen Weisselberg may be the man who knew too much.

Prosecutors investigating Trump’s inner circle reportedly now reportedly have a limited deal with Weisselberg, who has provided testimony against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. If his cooperation expanded, it could play a crucial role in multiple ongoing investigations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, federal prosecutors granted immunity to Weisselberg in exchange for information about payments to Cohen, which were made to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to suppress their stories of alleged affairs with Trump….

The Associated Press subsequently reported that the immunity deal was “restricted to Weisselberg’s grand jury testimony last month in the Cohen case.”

What could Weisselberg reveal if he were forced to cooperate fully?

If Weisselberg decided to fully open his kimono and reveal all he knows, the federal investigation in the Southern District of New York would be the most obvious potential beneficiary. However, in some ways, the nature of that office’s interest in Trump is the most mysterious. As of Friday afternoon, it is not known what other subjects that federal investigation is pursuing. If Trump Organization executives, or even the president, are in its cross hairs, then Weisselberg could offer key insights.

Special counsel Mueller’s investigation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is another potential beneficiary. For Mueller’s investigators, Weisselberg could detail the nature and extent of the financing the Trump Organization has received from sources connected to Russia. He could also offer them insight into any investments or potential investments Trump has made either in Russia or with Russian partners. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.

Weisselberg could also potentially be a valuable material witness in the New York attorney general’s state-level investigation into President Trump’s charitable foundation. In June, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation alleging a “pattern of illegal conduct,” including “willful self-dealing.” Weisselberg has long been the treasurer of the Trump Foundation. In preparation for its lawsuit, the attorney general’s office conducted a lengthy interview with Weisselberg and obtained his emails. The investigators allege that Weisselberg collaborated with Trump and campaign officials in advance of the 2016 Iowa primary to use the charity’s funds to benefit the campaign.

At The New Yorker, the very knowledgeable Adam Davidson has more:

As the C.F.O., Weisselberg tracked the money that came into the Trump Organization and the money that went out of it, former employees told me. I often found myself wondering what the Weisselberg part of the operation looked like. (I called and e-mailed him a few times, but, not surprisingly, never heard back.) Some told me he had a couple of bookkeepers, but that he personally handled most of the paperwork. Weisselberg knew who was paying or lending money to Trump, and he knew to whom Trump was giving money. When Trump became President, he placed his business interests in a revocable trust overseen by his son Donald Trump, Jr., and Weisselberg….

Trump with his wife, daughter, Karen Mcdougal (far right) and other playboy models.

This summer…Weisselberg’s role in the organization came into sharper focus. In a recording that Michael Cohen made of a conversation he had with Donald Trump about a payment to keep secret an affair, Cohen described setting up a shell company to pay hush money during the 2016 campaign to Karen McDougal, a woman who claimed to have had an affair with Trump. This week, Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws, in part by setting up this secretive payment. He said that he knew at the time that it was illegal to secretly make a payment for campaign-related activity, but he did so anyway at Trump’s direction. Strikingly, Cohen makes it clear on the tape that Weisselberg also knew about the shell company and payment. “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen explains to Trump.

It is difficult to hear the tape and not wonder how Weisselberg developed this particular expertise and whether he had deployed it before.

Here’s what Davidson has to say about Weisselberg’s immunity deal:

The Journal story and other news coverage suggest that Weisselberg has narrow immunity, related, solely, to the payments that Michael Cohen made to silence two women with whom Trump had affairs. With evidence of that crime in hand, prosecutors can subpoena other records from the company. If they have a reasonable basis to believe another crime has been committed, they can ask Weisselberg about it. Weisselberg, fearing jail time himself, could broaden his coöperation. The fact that Weisselberg has “flipped”— and may flip further—could shift the calculus of other figures in the Trump orbit as well. Weisselberg is a big fish—perhaps the biggest fish of all. Fearing that Weisselberg might implicate them in a crime, any cronies, dealmakers, attorneys, and others who might want to exchange information for leniency from prosecutors, will now do so.

If you’re interested in what kinds of crimes Weisselberg might know about, I’d suggest reading the entire article as well as Davidson’s other New Yorker pieces about Trump’s business dealings.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?