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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 6: Baby, You Can't Drive My Car
      •  About Those Seized Phones...
      •  By the Way, There Were Some Elections Yesterday
      •  Supreme Court Restores Louisiana Map
      •  Finland and Sweden, Come on Down

The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 6: Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

The sixth day of the 1/6 Committee's summer hearings series took place yesterday. If you didn't watch, and you want to, you can do so here:

It was known prior to the hearing that former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson would be testifying. There was some speculation that another surprise witness might get called, possibly documentary filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen. However, it turned out to be wall-to-wall Hutchinson. Here are the 10 biggest storylines, in our view:

  1. Witness Tampering: This came up in oblique fashion at the beginning of the hearing during Chair Bennie Thompson's (D-MS) opening statement. It came up much more substantively at the end, during Vice Chair Liz Cheney's (R-WY) closing remarks. In short, the Committee has ample evidence that people in TrumpWorld are pressuring would-be witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation, and that once someone is actually announced as a "public" witness, they are subject to a level of pressure that puts the Marianas Trench to shame.

    We mention this first because it would seem to answer the question of why a last-minute hearing was called. The news that Hutchinson was going to publicly spill her guts began to circulate among Washington insiders over the weekend, and possibly even before that. Subjecting Hutchinson to two weeks of arm-twisting would be unkind at best, and could cause her to rethink her participation, at worst.

  2. What a Witness: It would be hard to imagine a more credible witness than Hutchinson was. As is their habit, the Committee made sure to remind everyone that she's a longtime Republican, reciting a list of prominent Republicans she's worked for (Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX; etc.) and showing selfie-type pictures of her with numerous prominent Republicans. The Committee also made sure the audience was aware that Hutchinson was about as insider as insider gets. To communicate that visually, they showed a diagram of where her office was vis-à-vis the Oval Office, and asked her to confirm that the distance between the two is a 5-10 second walk.

    Beyond that, if someone is bullsh**ting, they tend to be overconfident and they tend to operate with the assumption that they must have a definitive answer to every question. Hutchinson, by contrast, was fairly passive, was sometimes halting, and took great care to distinguish between what she saw firsthand, what she heard secondhand, and what she simply didn't know. She also admitted, at times, that her memory might plausibly be inaccurate as regards some details.

    Hutchinson also knew things that only an insider could know. That means details about the Trump White House, of course, some of which we will return to. But it also means technical knowledge about the nuts and bolts of executive branch operations. To take one example, Hutchinson gave a detailed explanation of the exact job responsibilities of the White House Deputy Chief of Staff (a post held by Tony Ornato at the time of the events in question). It turns out that the primary job of that person is to oversee White House and presidential security, including serving as liaison to the U.S. Secret Service.

  3. Three Factions: We're not sure exactly what term to use here, but Hutchinson's testimony made very clear that there were three basic camps when it came to the election results, the post-election chicanery, and the insurrection. One faction, which included Ivanka Trump, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, and others, felt the election had been lost, and that the President needed to proceed accordingly. This faction, which also included Hutchinson, was deeply concerned about warning signs in the days leading up to January 6, was horrified when things turned violent on that day, and pressed Trump (without success) to do something promptly. In case you are wondering about the thoughts of these folks on that day, Hutchinson did a pretty good job of summing them up:
    As a staffer that worked to always represent the administration to the best of my ability and to showcase the good things that he had done for the country, I remember feeling frustrated and disappointed, and really it felt personal. I—I was really sad. As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic.

    It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie, and it was something that was really hard in that moment to digest, knowing what I've been hearing down the hall and the conversations that were happening. Seeing that tweet come up and knowing what was happening on the Hill, and it's something that I—it's still—I still struggle to work through the emotions of that.
    That passage also helps to make clear why Hutchinson was so credible.

    The second faction, meanwhile, was the Stop the Steal crowd. Your Rudy Giulianis and John Eastmans and the various enablers in Congress. And the third faction was the head-in-the-sand folks. These are the people who were not thrilled about what was going on, but who were unwilling to push back against it, either for fear of destroying their careers, or of setting off the President, or for whatever other reason. Hutchinson's former boss, Mark Meadows, occasionally lined up with the Stop the Stealers, but most of the time, at least according to Hutchinson's account, his head was squarely in the sand. Numerous times, she recounted engaging with him over what was happening, or what was about to happen, and Meadows having virtually no reaction at all, either affirmative or negative. The overall impression was of a person in denial.

    That said, if a person is aware of a conspiracy and does nothing, they're still very much exposed, legally. Although Meadows looks relatively less guilty than, say, Giuliani, he still looks plenty guilty of criminal offenses. Oh, and it came out yesterday that both of them were among the throng of folks who asked for presidential pardons. So, Meadows knows full well he's exposed. Thus far, the former chief of staff has largely resisted cooperating with the Committee. One wonders if he might have a change of heart, just so he can do some damage control.

  4. Malice Aforethought: The Committee is making sure that AG Merrick Garland, and any other interested parties, are reminded over and over of the existence of various elements of various crimes. Most crimes are much more problematic if they were planned in advance. And Hutchinson's testimony made clear, once again, that what happened on 1/6 was neither a surprise to folks in the White House, nor something that happened without White House involvement. For example, she recounted the glee with which Rudy Giuliani told her what a big day 1/6 was going to be. Hutchinson was alarmed by what she'd heard, and promptly went to Meadows with it. He already knew and, consistent with his generally head-in-the-sand posture, glumly noted that "Things might get real, real bad on January 6th," and then went back to texting on his phone.

  5. Armed and Dangerous: The White House was not merely aware that there would be a large and violent crowd in town on 1/6, it was also aware that the crowd would be heavily armed. Trump, Meadows and other senior staffers were warned several times. For example, Ornato told them that there would be "knives, guns in the form of pistols and rifles, bear spray, body armor, spears, and flagpoles."

  6. Size Matters: In view of the fact that the crowd was well-armed, there was substantial security for Trump's speech on the morning of 1/6. Anyone who has seen footage of the speech will likely recall the bulletproof glass that Trump stood behind. In addition, the area was crawling with Secret Service, and people wanting to gain access to the speech had to pass through magnetometers (or "mags"), more commonly known as metal detectors.

    The mags created something of a problem, from Trump's vantage point. Perhaps fittingly, given how his presidency began, he was obsessed with the size of the crowd that day, and wanted photographs showing all the tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people who came to support his bid to remain in office. The security checkpoints very much slowed the admission of people into the area where the speech was being delivered, and made it difficult for many MAGA types to get in (both because of long, slow lines and because if they had weapons, they had to dispense with them to get past the mags). Trump's staff made preparations to photograph the crowd in the most PR-friendly way possible, but the President wanted more than that. "They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away," he reportedly decreed. "Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away. "

    This is rather significant for three reasons. First, it confirms how stupid and/or reckless Trump had become by 1/6. Maybe the crowd was made up solely of Trump fanatics. But nobody can be sure that .001% of them aren't Trump haters, and .001% is enough to assassinate a president. Second, it confirms that Trump knew full well that there were weapons aplenty present on 1/6. Third, it confirms that he was more than happy to redirect the weapons toward the Capitol, and to risk having them used on people who were not Donald Trump. Note that he said "They're not here to hurt me," as opposed to "There's not here to hurt anyone."

  7. A Capitol Idea: Speaking of the Capitol, Hutchinson testified that Trump tried several times to set things up so that he could travel to the Capitol on 1/6. Such plans were scuttled in the days before the insurrection, and they were scuttled again the morning of. And then, after the speech, Trump apparently tried again. This portion of the testimony is going to get more attention than any other portion, so here it is verbatim:
    Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of I'm the f'ing president, take me up to the Capitol now, to which [Secret Service Special Agent] Bobby [Engel] responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, "Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel."
    Reportedly, Engel has already come out and said that it didn't happen that way, and he's willing to testify to that. Undoubtedly, some apologists (ahem, Fox) will seize on this to impeach all of Hutchinson's testimony. However, that's just misdirection. Hutchinson was recounting hearsay, not something she claimed to have seen herself. And the fact is that someone sitting the back of a limousine couldn't plausibly reach the steering wheel. Our suspicion is that Trump did make a move of some sort, and the details were garbled a bit in the retelling. And more importantly, the point of the story isn't really that the President grabbed at a steering wheel. It's that people around him regarded him as being out of control. And that fact remains uncontroverted.

  8. Interior Decorating: Continuing on the "out of control" theme, Hutchinson also recounted an incident where Trump was furious with then-AG Bill Barr, and threw his (Trump's) dinner plate at the wall, leaving broken pieces of dish on the floor and condiments all over the wall. Here's the testimony:
    The valet had articulated that the President was extremely angry at the Attorney General's AP interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall, which was causing him to have to clean up. So I grabbed a towel and started wiping the catsup off of the wall to help the valet out. And he said something to the effect of, he's really ticked off about this.
    The Committee asked Hutchinson if this was the only time something like this happened, and she said that it was not, by a long shot.

  9. Mike Deserves It: A question of much interest to the Committee is Trump's response to the crowd's threats to hang then-VP Mike Pence. According to Hutchinson, the President nodded approvingly when told about the chants, and said "Mike deserves it."

    On one hand, this is a fairly minor point, one that verges on being gossip. On the other hand, the Committee keeps hitting on it because it speaks to Trump's frame of mind. Not only was he out of control, he was perfectly OK with violence against those who would not do his bidding. And if he was willing to embrace the violent execution of a lackey who did nothing but lick his boots for 4 years, is there really any doubt Trump would have been just fine with it if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or any of 300 other members of Congress had been killed?

  10. Seditious Conspiracy: As we listened to the testimony, it seemed very clear that the Committee was making a case for seditious conspiracy. That crime has, in effect, three elements: (1) two or more people have to be involved, (2) there has to be an effort to interfere with the proper functioning of the government and (3) this has to be accomplished through the use of force or violence. Elements 1 and 2 were already well established by previous days' testimony. And the biggest contribution of yesterday's hearing was to add #3 to the list.

    As we have noted, we watch the hearings and note our thoughts first, so as to avoid outside influence or groupthink. But once we have formed our impressions, we do look around to see what others are thinking. And take a look at the Google trends for the search "seditious conspiracy" yesterday: It was at zero all
morning, jumped to 100 around 11:00, and remained between 10 and 25 for the rest of the day.

    The big spike came a little over an hour into the hearing. And this is despite the fact that the words "seditious," "sedition," "conspiring" and "conspiracy" were never uttered yesterday. It would seem that the Committee is doing a pretty good job of putting the pieces out there and letting viewers put them together. And if we can do it, and all these other people can do it, then certainly Merrick Garland can do it.

The insta-consensus is that yesterday was very bad news for the former president. Here's a selection of headlines:

Perhaps the very best evidence that Trump was badly wounded, however, comes from The Donald himself. Everyone knows, at this point, that when he's feeling vulnerable, he lashes out. Politico did the grisly work of going onto Truth Social to view his response, and noted that, as of last night, he had sent out 11 "truths" railing against Hutchinson. Trump slurred her as a "third-rate social climber" and a "whacko," and denied that any of what she said was correct. He also declared: "I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is." Does anyone find that the slightest bit credible? Don't forget she worked 30 feet from him for 2 years, and regularly traveled with him in the presidential limousine and in Air Force One.

And there you have it. Presumably the next hearing is a week or two away, but who really knows? (Z)

About Those Seized Phones...

As long as we are on the subject of the 1/6 insurrection, we noted yesterday that John Eastman's phone was seized by the feds, and we noted last week that the same happened to Jeff Clark (who also had a bunch of other devices seized). That's two people who were in Trump's orbit, and who were very definitely egging on his violent and conspiratorial tendencies. In both cases, we noted that these incidents illustrate that the two men are on the radar of the Justice Department. But we probably should have been more specific. So, let's go back and clean that up.

The key here is that the devices were seized, and in surprise raids. Both of those are out-of-the-ordinary tactics, and many requirements must be met before they can take place. There must, at very least, be a criminal investigation, along with approval from a federal judge who has been convinced that there is probable cause for the action. There was likely also a grand jury involved, which in turn suggests Merrick Garland likely gave personal approval.

Further, in order to convince a judge, it is likely that the DoJ has evidence from someone close to Clark, and from someone close to Eastman (maybe the same someone, maybe two different someones). This person, or these people would likely need to have confirmed, beyond a doubt, that there is something incriminating on the devices and that the devices were located within the targets' residences. On top of that, your devices can only be seized under these circumstances if you yourself are the target of the investigation. So, the DoJ appears to have concluded, and a judge appears to have agreed, that attorney-client privilege doesn't apply here.

There are two major points here. The first is that Eastman and Clark (and potentially other, currently unknown, targets) don't just look like they are in trouble, they look like they are in big trouble. The second is that the wheels of justice may turn slowly, but there's simply no question at this point that the DoJ is going to reach all the way into the Trump White House as it investigates and prosecutes the 1/6 insurrection. Garland & Co. have already squeezed a bunch of small fish (the Proud Boys, for example) and have now moved on to the medium-sized fish. And, of course, we all know what comes after the medium-sized fish... (Z)

By the Way, There Were Some Elections Yesterday

Normally, this item would be the first one on the page. But these aren't normal times, and the possibility that yesterday was Dean-Day for Donald Trump means that story gets top billing. Still, we're a full-service political analysis site, and so here are a lucky seven storylines from yesterday's elections in Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi, and South Carolina:

  1. Hochul In the Driver's Seat: Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) destroyed her competition, taking 67.6% of the vote (none of the other candidates broke 20%). She will now face off against Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who easily dispatched Andrew Giuliani, the fruit of Rudy's loins. It would seem that last name is not so magical in the Empire State anymore. Early polling has Hochul trouncing Zeldin by double digits, and we see no reason to think that's off the mark.

  2. Ratfu**ing Works in Illinois...: Democratic groups, and billionaire Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker, spent a lot of money promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump-backed Darren Bailey (R). In such a blue state, the more moderate former Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin (R) would have been considerably more electable. Now, Pritzker is pretty much a shoo-in for a second term against Bailey.

  3. ...But Not in Colorado: On the other hand, Democratic efforts to boost wackadoodle Republicans in Colorado didn't work out, as far-right "stop the steal" candidates were rejected up and down the state ballot in favor of sane Republicans. In particular, election-denier Tina Peters did not get the nomination for secretary of state. The Democrats still have the advantage in these races, but they'd have a bigger advantage against nutters. Also, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R) was not harmed by Democratic voters reregistering as "Republicans," as she easily won renomination with 65.4% of the vote.

  4. Senate Matches Set: All four of the sitting senators who were on the ballot yesterday—Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jim Lankford (R-OK) won their primaries, of course. They will face, respectively, moderate Republican Joe O'Dea, moderate Republican Kathy Salvi, independent Evan McMullin, and the winner of a runoff between moderate Democrats Madison Horn and Jason Bollinger. Bennet is a strong favorite to win, and Duckworth and Lankford are slam dunks, but the Utah race could get very interesting.

    For the seat that Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is vacating early, former representative Kendra Horn (D), who was unopposed yesterday, does not yet know which candidate she will be losing to in November, as the Republican side of the contest is headed to a runoff between Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former state House speaker T.W. Shannon. That said, Mullin came up just a little bit short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff (43.6%), while Shannon collected just 17.5% of the vote, so Mullin is the likely nominee and the likely next U.S. Senator from Oklahoma.

    Finally, in South Carolina, Krystle Matthews (D) won a runoff for the right to lose to Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) in November.

  5. Incumbents, Go Home: It's not often that three incumbents get sent packing on the same primary day, but it happened yesterday, in part because there were two incumbent vs. incumbent races.

    To start with, Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) made some headlines last week when, after the Dobbs decision was announced, she thanked Donald Trump for the "historic victory for white life." Miller said she misspoke, and she meant "for the right to life." That may be true, but if ever there was something that looked like a Freudian slip, this is it. Anyhow, the statement did not cost her victory, as she defeated Rep. Rodney Davis 57.2% to 42.8%. The district, IL-15, is very red, so Miller is sure to win the right to spend another 2 years fighting for white people... er, for the right to life.

    Also in Illinois, Rep. Marie Newman (D) was defeated by Rep. Sean Casten (D) in IL-06. Despite the fact that the redrawn district has more of Newman's constituents than Casten's, it wasn't close, with Casten taking 68.1% of the vote to 28.8% for Newman. Newman is considerably more lefty than Casten, so this is something of a poke in the eye for the Bernie wing of the party.

    Steven Palazzo (R-MS), meanwhile, was the one incumbent who was dispatched by a non-incumbent. He is facing an ethics investigation, and so in the runoff in MS-04, the voters decided they preferred former cop Mike Ezell.

  6. Be My Guest: While Palazzo was getting the boot, another Mississippi incumbent was sailing to victory in his runoff. Rep. Michael Guest (R) finished second in the primary, but took 67.3% of the vote yesterday, as compared to just 32.7% for challenger Michael Cassidy. This despite the fact that Guest—gasp!—voted in favor of creating the Joint 1/6 Committee that never actually came to fruition. It would seem that, even in Mississippi, a little apostasy against Donald Trump is tolerable.

  7. TrumpWatch 2020: There were 17 Trump-endorsed candidates on the ballot yesterday, and they were all victorious. However, five were unopposed and 11 won in blowouts. So, the only race where the former president's endorsement might have mattered was in the Mary Miller-Rodney Davis contest in IL-15.

And now that these primaries are (largely) in the book, we wait. June was very busy, and August will be very busy, but July has a grand total of one primary scheduled—Maryland on July 19. So, if possible, schedule your vacation in July so you won't miss anything. Oh wait, the Select Committee will be holding more hearings in July. Hmmm, go on vacation when you originally planned, but be sure to take a smartphone, tablet, or notebook with you. (Z)

Supreme Court Restores Louisiana Map

Yesterday, we listed the remaining controversial decisions coming from the Supreme Court this term before they get the hell out of Dodge. And shortly after we posted that, a controversial decision did indeed get announced. It wasn't one on our list, however, because it was done via the shadow docket. In an unsigned order, the Court declared that a decision putting adside Louisiana's congressional map would be stayed, and that the map would therefore be used for this cycle.

In view of the manner in which the ruling was handled, we don't the know the vote for sure. However, the three liberals all dissented from the order, so the odds are pretty good that it was 6-3. That also makes sense because five of the conservatives tend to be in lock step in embracing a right-wing view of issues, while occasional swinger Chief Justice John Roberts dislikes the Voting Rights Act and tends to be OK with making it harder for people of color to vote or to gain representation in government.

This Court has said that racial gerrymanders are not acceptable, though it keeps allowing painfully obvious racial gerrymanders to stand, so it's not especially clear what that means. The immediate result of the decision is that, at least for this cycle, Louisiana will end up with a House delegation that includes five Republicans and one Democrat. This also resolves the last boundary-map issue that will be resolved before the midterms; all other lingering disputes will wait until 2023 or 2024 to be litigated. And so, that leaves the country with a national map that has roughly 188 safe Democratic districts, 168 safe Republican districts, and 79 districts that are at least somewhat competitive. (Z)

Finland and Sweden, Come on Down

Things aren't going so well for Ukraine right now, as Moscow has righted the ship, militarily, and has also shown that it has no limits in terms of the depredations it will commit in search of victory. The Biden administration, and the allies of the United States, are looking to change the tide in any way they can. The White House announced a new round of sanctions on Tuesday, while the G7 agreed to a number of measures this weekend, including caps on the prices paid for Russian oil. Oh, and the West has forced a Russian default on the nation's sovereign debt.

Yesterday, some potentially even bigger news was announced, namely that Turkey has withdrawn its opposition to the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Those nations' initial applications were met with Turkish indignation, but now it's nothing but Turkish delight. Nobody seems to know why Turkey changed course, but it was surely either carrots (money, weapons), or sticks (threat of sanctions), or both.

Turkey was the only NATO member opposed to Swedish and Finnish membership, so this pretty much clears the path for those nations to formally become part of the alliance, something that might well be formalized within weeks or months. Currently, there are 750 miles of shared borders between Russia and NATO countries, this will more than double that to 1,600 miles. And those extra 850 miles will have a sizable number of well-trained troops and weapons pointed right at Moscow. Those troops and weapons might not be deployed, but nobody knows for sure, and it's another thing Vladimir Putin will have to keep an eye upon, and will have to protect against, using resources that would otherwise be deployed against Ukraine. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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