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If We're Gonna Have a Civil War, This Oughta Help
As I was sending out yesterday’s newsletter, fresh news was breaking and I decided to leave it out till today. I knew it would and should dominate the news cycle but I saw no point in jumping into the discussion fast since all my readers would read about it in dozens of other places.
I was pleased to see that my own favorite chronicler of these uncertain times, Historian Heather Cox Richardson, put out her newsletter a few hours later and covered what I did, in the same order, though she had time to add the story that dominated, the raid on Mar-a-Lago.
It’s rare that we’re on the same thought train, and as she can add more specifics in fewer words, with a knowledge of history so immense that she dwarfs all others, you oughta be reading her (along with her million plus paid subscribers) as well.
In my view, someone oughta nominate her for a MacArthur genius grant. But I also intend to elaborate a bit more, including some quotes of her take, which was the best of the bunch.
She wrote, but I’m adding the bolding for emphasis of key points:
Trump tonight released a statement saying that the FBI was raiding Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Florida, property. “They even broke into my safe!” he complained. He called it “an attack by Radical Left Democrats” and said it was a sign that America has become a third-world country. But Trump himself appointed the current director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, after firing former director James Comey for investigating the ties of his 2016 campaign to Russia. Wray is hardly a “Left Democrat”; he served in the George W. Bush administration and is a member of the Federalist Society.
Legal analyst Joyce White Vance reminded people on Twitter: “We don't know yet what crimes the FBI had sufficient evidence of to convince a federal judge there was probable cause to search Trump's residence, but the execution of a search warrant isn't a raid. It's a judicially overseen process.” It appears that the search was about Trump’s removal of classified documents from the White House. (I told you: no one with any brains at all ever messes with archivists.)
As legal analyst Asha Rangappa noted, “a search warrant has to demonstrate probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found in the places and things searched.” And legal analyst Renato Mariotti adds that the Department of Justice doesn’t usually prosecute cases unless the material was deliberately transferred to a third party, and that it is unlikely DOJ would have obtained a search warrant if it did not expect to pursue a case.
But, as I expected, the logic of the situation means little to many of his supporters. They’ll be threateniong to unleash everything, attacking everyone from Biden to the FBI, to the judge that okayed the warrant, to Hillary, to Democrats, to George Soros, to the Rothschils and even threatening the majority of voters. That’s why I waited to review the obvious and look to fill in detail.
She covered the predictable response well:
Tonight, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expressing outrage, the Fox News Channel is talking about Hunter Biden, and Trump’s base is calling for war, but Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is silent. For his part, Trump is fundraising off the executed search warrant.
Again, his base of fervent mooks, minions and toadies won’t care that he’s soaking them to fund his forthcoming legal bills from his ludicrous comparisons and bloviations. But something she added deserves extra scrutiny:
Tonight, chief White House correspondent for CNN Kaitlan Collins reported that in early June, investigators had gone to Mar-a-Lago to learn more about the materials Trump had taken when he left the White House. They asked to see where the documents were stored, and Trump’s lawyers took them to a basement room. The search warrant executed today included a safe in Trump’s office, and journalist Laura Rozen reported that agents suspected that Trump had taken and was holding other classified documents after he returned many of them.
Political commentators noted that the law disqualifies from “holding any office under the United States” anyone who “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys…any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk of officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States.”
Richardson finishes by making the case that in Watergate, Nixon was forced to resign but with Ford’s pardon, he was never held fully accountable, and that would encourage future presidents to break the law. I agree with that but I’m going in another direction with a point that deserves consideration.
I presume most people understand what happened to Al Capone. Though he committed far more brutal crimes, he was convicted of tax evasion, imprisoned and there he died.
For months now, people have complained that Merrick Garland’s DOJ wasn’t doing enough, that Trump should be prosecuted and yada-yadda-yadda. But I also underrstood all the delay-and-divert tactics a former president with lots of cash at his disposal could and would use in response. I understand that such a prosecution - especially if Trump is imprisoned - could make him a martyr in the eyes of his supporters and that some degree of violence is likely.
But I don’t underestimate Garland.
An AG has to investigate, flesh out the facts and determine not just if laws were broken but the odds of gaining a conviction. And whether the country gains or loses from the outcome, because, yes, political considerations do take place despite the efforts of good AGs to be politically neutral. So I repeat a point many may overlook.
the law disqualifies from “holding any office under the United States” anyone who “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys…any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk of officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States.”
Is that the end game Garland’s after? Instead of jailing him - at least initially - is he going to seek a conviction on that point first? If so, and were he to succeed, it eliminates any avenue Trump has to run again. It keeps him from ever going off half-cocked on foreign policy, keeps him away from the nuclear codes, keeps him from attempting a military coup (which was thwarted in the other critically important story du jour).
If that happens, it also reduces the incentive for outside actors like Putin to meddle in the 2024 election since getting Trump as an asset would be off the table.
Further, once it becomes clear he’s not running in 2024, that reduces him to the status of kingmaker where he’ll try to use his influence to get others elected in a variety of government offices. Would he also throw his weight behind deSantis?
I can’t guess all the possibilities that could follow. But I can guess this. After the midterms (where Dems are likely to lose the House but might retain the Senate), Trump’s influence is likely to diminish. Supporters hoping for his resurrection will come to grips with the reality that he won’t be Prez ever again. If he’s not initially jailed for the records laws violations, they don’t easily cast him as a martyr.
And Trump’s to much the narcissist to hand off his influence to any successor. Were he to back Desantis, he’d demand bowing and scraping from the Florida governor which actually could weaken DeSantis. Especially if there’s a part two to the DOJ strategy.
A records violation conviction would already peel away some of Trump’s less ardent supporters. Were the DOJ then to pursue additional charges against Trump on more serious crimes - a guy who can’t run and thus has lost the power to appoint toadies or to pardon anyone - the fervor for Trump will die down. Once he’s viewed as a loser by people with money power, they’ll be putting more effort into potential presidential candidates than in the sidelined Trump.
The polls would reflect that, his influence would wane and then he could face more seriouis charges with a reduced risk of a violent reactions.
It’s guesswork on my part - I call it the Capone Heat Reduction Diversion. Keep it in mind going forward as the DOJ has now clearly entered the arena. (And note: there is some dispute about whether the SCOTUS would allow the disqualifier.)
Feel free to add your thoughts and predictions because, dammit, we democracy supporters can use more conspiracy theories and a dash of fresh hopes.
I also think the way the generals worked to thwart Trump’s worst instincts has a good and bad side to consider.
Good: adhering to their oaths to - above all - defend the country more than a person, they succeeded.
Bad: as the insurrection and other events have shown, some current and former cops, soldiers, and generals are Trump supporters and some even used or planned to use deadly force to support Trump’s attempted election theft. Some Secret Service guys and even some Capitol Building cops were also Trump-supportive.
So, although we lucked out and got some generals who spared us a military coup, an elected civilian president is supposed to controil the military, not vice versa. Few other presidents have put generals in that uncomfortable position where they even have to weigh the idea of opposing and reining in a president. Nixon did, as he put the military on alert as a diversion. Reagan did, using Lt. Col Ollie North to commit crimes.
But what if the head of the Joint Chiefs was a Trump toady? Or the Secretary of Defense? Or the head of the FBI? What if a toady thought supporting Trump was in the public’s best interest? Trump definitely made multiple efforts to get toadies into key positions to steal the election. It took multiple people, in the military and DOJ, to prevent those worst cases. But again, we were lucky this time. Next time could be different.
I agree with Richardson: accountability is critical to limit recurrences and worst outcomes. But the DOJ likely is also considering how to do so without triggering large scale violence.
If you want a link to Richardson’s newsletter from yesterday, go forth and enjoy it.
And just for funzies, here’s a notable article from 2019 that’s certainly relevant to our current moment.
Or maybe more about the disgraced ex-mayor turned traitrorous toady. More detail here.
What, you prefer some uplifting news? Here ya go, it’s about a better Tucker.
Okay, this because Love is many-splendored:
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