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Prosecutors Widen Inquiry Into Fake Electors Scheme
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Haven't We Heard This Story Before? The Case of the Missing Phone Calls

The Washington Post and CBS News were interested in the list of people Donald Trump talked to, and when he talked to them, on January 6, 2021. And so, the outlets filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the White House call log for that day. And when the call log was turned over, guess what? It just so happens to be missing more than 7 hours' worth of calls.

The gap in the record commences at 11:17 a.m. ET and runs to 6:54 p.m. ET. That covers the calls Trump would have made right before his speech to supporters (noon ET) all the way through to the restoration of order (around 6:30 p.m. ET) and the temporary suspension of Trump's Twitter account (just after 7:00 p.m. ET). That means that any plotting, planning and scheming that Trump might have done is missing. Trump, of course, says he has no idea what happened, and that as far as he was aware, the logs were complete.

This situation is rather similar to what happened with the "smoking gun" tape during the Watergate saga. In that case, once it was revealed that Richard Nixon was recorded ordering a coverup, the Congress, the Department of Justice, and the press all wanted access to the tape. And once the tape was finally produced, there just so happened to be an 18-minute gap during the key portion of the conversation. Nixon said he had no idea what happened, and eventually his secretary Rose Mary Woods accepted blame for the "accidental" erasure. Later analysis, using tools not available in the 1970s, revealed that the tape had been erased over at least a dozen times. All of them accidental, undoubtedly.

In fairness, it is possible that Nixon did not have direct knowledge of the erasures. And it is possible that Trump did not have direct knowledge of the missing phone logs. Either action, or both, could have been undertaken by underlings, on their own initiative, so as to give the boss plausible deniability. Whether Nixon or Trump actually knew about the act of vandalism doesn't particularly matter, though.

What does matter is that the erasure made Nixon, and makes Trump, look guilty. Clearly, the missing information was incriminating or it wouldn't have been "disappeared" like this. In Nixon's case, the original tape could not be recovered, but his obvious guilt caused everyone to redouble their efforts, and eventually another incriminating tape was found. In Trump's case, who knows if the missing log can be restored? After all, we do live in a world where data is backed up. And even if it's not capable of being restored, a call log can likely be re-created. The absence of the log might be a slight stumbling block for the 1/6 Committee, but they didn't really expect it to be accurate, anyhow. Not only were they already working to re-create the list using other people's phone records, they were also looking into the possible use of "burner" phones by Trump, in an effort to keep his calls on the down low.

Trump has denied that he used a burner phone in that period and has even said he doesn't know what a burner phone is. But he is generally very careful about trying to avoid leaving incriminating evidence around when doing something he knows is potentially criminal. He is also known for grabbing the phones of his associates and using them to make calls. Surely the Committee is going to subpoena the phone records of all the people he may have talked to on Jan. 6. In particular, it is believed that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called Trump on Jan. 6, not the other way around. That means if the Committee subpoenas his phone records, they will know what numbers McCarthy called that day. If a completely unknown number shows up, that could be a possible burner phone. Then a subpoena for its call records could be more than a bit interesting.

In the end, only Trump (or whoever it was that ordered the deletion) knows exactly how bad that call log is for the former president. However, given the potential to recreate his activities that day through other means, causing the log to disappear might have done relatively little good, while serving to make the point—in bright, red flashing letters—that even Trump insiders think something very untoward took place here. Time will tell, but this sort of chicanery certainly didn't do Dick Nixon any good. (Z)

So Much for That Billionaires' Tax

This weekend, Joe Biden said he was interested in a special tax on the increased value of billionaires' assets, even if the gains are not yet realized (by, for example, selling the stock, or piece of art, or house). On Monday, the White House released a budget that made the proposal official. And yesterday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) did what he does, and promptly shot the idea down, decreeing that you can't tax people on things they don't have yet, and "There are other ways for people to pay their fair share, and I think everyone should pay."

The basic idea is popular with progressive Democrats, who have observed—quite rightly—that very wealthy people have a pretty clever trick for getting around paying most of their taxes. They let their assets appreciate, take out loans against those assets, and live like Croesus. Because the money is a loan, it's not income, and so it's not taxed. And when the loan is finally repaid, it's often done with... another loan, or in some highly tax-advantaged way (for example, as part of settling a deceased billionaire's estate).

With that said, although the billionaires' tax is trying to close a real loophole that is being exploited, it is deeply problematic in practice, as we noted on Monday. Politically, it is very unlikely to get past both chambers of Congress. Legally, it would have struggled to get past the Supreme Court. And pragmatically, it would be very difficult to value certain types of unrealized assets properly (among other issues).

Joe Biden is not stupid, and surely he was well aware of these things. And any portions that he missed, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was certainly available to fill him in. So, we cannot believe that Biden's proposal was a serious one. He put it out there as a sop to the progressive wing of the party, so he could say he tried, knowing full well the idea would go down in flames, sooner or later (and probably sooner). Put another way, whether they planned it this way or not, Biden and Manchin just staged a very high-profile performance of "good cop, bad cop."

Now, if progressives want to actually close the loophole, they're going to have to head back to the drawing board and come up with a more viable proposal. Alternatively, they could get a larger number of progressive senators elected. Meanwhile, if Manchin wants to make the rich pay more and/or to cut the deficit, it's now on him to propose something that he can get behind. So, Biden has rather quickly and neatly made this into "not my problem." Such is the nature of budget chess. (Z)

Clarence and Ginni Thomas Are Giving Both Parties Headaches

Ginni Thomas, wife of Associate Justice Clarence, was either an insurrectionist, or was insurrectionist adjacent. And she certainly schemed to overturn the 2020 presidential election result and to return Donald Trump to the White House. That means it was unethical, at best, for her husband to rule in cases involving the election. In fact, one could argue that it's unethical for Clarence Thomas to be a part of any cases involving Trump, given both Ginni's activities as well as the Justice's own personal friendship with the former president. Thomas, of course, did not recuse himself from any of these cases, and he kept any conflicts of interest under his robe (since justices don't wear hats). This has created something of a firestorm in the last week or so, as texts sent by Ginni Thomas came to light, showing how deeply involved she was in "stop the steal" efforts.

This has put the Democrats into something of a pickle, as they consider what, if anything, to do. On one hand, it is not good for the democracy, or for the Party, if they turn a blind eye to this kind of behavior. On the other hand, they have only limited options when it comes to their response, and all of them are problematic. The four basic possibilities:

  1. Censure: Congress has the ability to pass a motion of censure targeting any member of the federal government. It's never happened with a judge, apparently, but it's happened with presidents. The individual chambers can also pass their own motions of censure. This is certainly doable for the Democrats, and it would be something, but that something would basically be a slap on the wrist.

  2. Impeach: When it comes to the actual policing of judges, Congress has only one tool at its disposal, and it's a sledgehammer: They can impeach and remove the judge.

    In Thomas' case, this is such a tall mountain to climb that it makes Mt. Everest look like a pitcher's mound. Although there is justification for impeaching Thomas, and there was justification for impeaching Trump twice, many Democrats are leery of feeding a narrative that they abuse the process, and that they impeach conservatives they don't like at the drop of a hat.

    There's also the problem that even if Thomas is impeached, and even if light is thrown on his problematic choices, there is zero chance he gets convicted. It would take 17 Republican votes, and one can scarcely conceive of anything that Thomas might do that would persuade 17 Republican senators to voluntarily create a vacancy on the Court with Democratic control of the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. Further, the next time the Republicans controlled Congress, they would be looking under rocks for excuses to impeach Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and/or Ketanji Brown Jackson.

    In short, there is a reason that Congress has only impeached a Supreme Court justice one time. And that occasion was nearly 220 years ago and was unsuccessful.

  3. Ethics Legislation: There is already federal law that establishes standards for the behavior of federal judges. The problem is that it relies largely on voluntary compliance, along with the "insurance policy" that a corrupt decision can be overturned by the next higher level of the court system. But Thomas has already concluded that there's nothing for him to comply with. And, of course, there is no court above his to provide an "insurance policy."

    The Democrats could try to pass legislation that gives existing law some teeth, and that makes it easier to sanction or remove a problematic judge. However, getting that legislation through the Senate would be no small feat, given the filibuster. And while Congress clearly has the power to set rules for the federal judiciary, it's still possible that any law it passes could be struck down by... the Supreme Court.

  4. A Constitutional Amendment: Amending the Constitution in order to make judges more accountable would solve the problem of the new rules being struck down by the Supreme Court. But if a bill can't even make it past the Senate, then it's sure as heck not going to make it past three-quarters of the state legislatures. Further, the primary purpose of a new law or a new amendment would be to create an alternate process for holding judges accountable. But as the Twenty-Fifth Amendment has shown, any person or body invested with removal power tends to be very reluctant to exercise that power.

It took the blue team a few weeks to get on the same page about impeaching Donald Trump, with the progressives taking the lead in pushing for that outcome, and the rest of the party eventually following. There are some who are speculating we'll see that same progression here, and certainly there are some progressives (like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY) who are already calling for impeachment. We doubt it will happen, though. Our guess is that Democrats decide to pin their hopes on a Department of Justice investigation of Ginni Thomas, which would relieve them of having to deal with the fallout of a failed impeachment. The only way they plausibly move forward with an impeachment is if they believe they can get at least one Republican vote in the Senate, so as to create the illusion of bipartisanship. They might move forward with the censure idea, though that might also be done only if at least one Republican vote is there.

Meanwhile, the Thomases are also a problem for the Republicans. The shorter-term issue is that, going into the midterms, the GOP doesn't want to make it look like they don't care about corruption of this sort. In particular, the Thomases have a habit of palling around with Republican pooh-bahs, and appearing at high-profile and highly partisan functions and fundraisers. The Justice and his wife may find themselves taken off a few invite lists, at least for the foreseeable future. Poor Ben Carson will have to sit at the Black table all by himself.

Longer term, Thomas is probably already—by virtue of his sexual harassment and his... inventive jurisprudence—the least credible justice since... maybe, Abe Fortas? Republicans are expecting him to participate in some very significant decisions in the next year. And many of those might come down 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the three liberals. In that case, as the senior justice in the majority, Thomas would either write the opinion himself, or would decide who gets to write it.

The problem here is that most of the Court's power is soft power. Their rulings are followed because the other branches of the federal government, the state and local governments, and the citizenry buy into those rulings. But SCOTUS has no capacity to enforce its decisions. And if there's a highly controversial decision, with Thomas the deciding vote (and possibly the author of the opinion)? That is going to encourage all sorts of pushback and rebellion against the decision. Undoubtedly, many Republican leaders would prefer to have a less problematic judge in that seat at this point. If the Republicans regain the White House and the Senate in 2024, there is going to be pressure on the 76-years-old-by-then Thomas to resign that will make the pressure on Stephen Breyer look like a round of patty cake. (Z)

There's No "There" There, Part I: The 2024 GOP Field

The Republicans are a party without a platform these days. For the 2020 presidential election, they literally copied and pasted the 2016 platform, not even bothering to update the references to years until someone pointed it out. For the 2022 elections, the Republican leadership is assiduously trying to avoid a platform of any sort, despite Sen. Rick Scott's (R-FL) maneuvering to the contrary.

No, what defines the Party these days is the things it is against. That list includes, in no particular order, socialism, the Democratic Party, abortion, wokeness, the Democratic Party, most immigration, the Democratic Party, Critical Race Theory, mask mandates, and the Democratic Party. This was on display across various media outlets on Tuesday, as various would-be 2024 presidential candidates opined on exactly what is wrong with the Democratic Party:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—They hate democracy: The Texan was on Laura Ingraham's show to talk about... who knows what? However, egged on by the host, he quickly launched into an anti-Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and anti-Democratic Party rant, decreeing: "Democrats don't believe in democracy." And in case anyone didn't hear him properly, Cruz repeated himself. His apparent argument—and it's very hard to follow—is that the Democrats are going to lose in November, and they are going to whine and cry that the midterm elections were stolen, and that those complaints will be antithetical to democratic government. As a man who whined and cried when his party lost the White House in November 2020, we will have to defer to his expert judgment that such behavior is antithetical to democratic government.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)—They're misogynists: Once Hawley has a talking point, he squeezes it for all it's worth, until all the life has been drained from it. And so, he went on at least two different shows in the last 48 hours to share his view that the Democrats are misogynists because of their response to the Ginni Thomas story (see above). Here's how the Senator explained it on Sean Hannity's program on Tuesday: "The idea that Ginni Thomas, his wife, is supposed to sign off on her texts and on her work with her husband, as if he's in charge of her in some way, isn't that misogyny? Isn't that exactly what the Democrats are saying they are against?"

    Does Hawley really fail to understand that familial relationships can cause conflicts of interest, regardless of the genders of the persons involved? Similarly, does he really not understand the difference between sexism (which is what he's actually alleging) and misogyny? We ask the questions, readers can decide on the answers for themselves.

  • Donald Trump—They're afraid of me: Trump is apparently having trouble getting outlets to put him on the air anymore, as he agreed to a livestream Twitter interview with John Solomon, the hacky "investigative reporter" who used to work for The Hill. The Twitter stream attracted just 200 live viewers which, admittedly, is approximately 199 more than it would have attracted if streamed on TRUTH Social. Anyhow, the former president said that he wants to "debate" a prominent Democrat about the "theft" of the 2020 election, but none of them will agree, because they're too frightened of him.

    There is no evidence that Trump actually offered to debate anyone, or that anyone turned him down. He certainly didn't share any names. That said, what would be the point of such an event? Trump behaves boorishly during these things, refusing to let the other person speak, and otherwise showing disrespect for the other party in any way possible. Further, debates are supposed to be about competing interpretations and different ideas, not facts vs. "alternate facts." Debating Trump about the 2020 election would be like debating him about whether the Easter Bunny is real. You can't argue against a fantasy.

The 2024 election is 951 days away, and most of that time is going to be filled with Republican presidential candidates trying to find new and inventive "culture wars" issues, and new and inventive ways to smear the Democrats as evil, godless, perverse, racist, unpatriotic, communist deviants. So, brace yourself.

We mention Tuesday's blathering, in particular, because the three would-be presidents are so obviously following the same playbook. It's like a Mad Lib for those who are mad at the libs; just fill in the sentence "The problem with the Democrats is __________," and then use that as your theme for your segment on Fox, or whatever other outlet.

That said, this kind of posturing really isn't worthy of our time or yours. If one or more Republican candidates wants to put forward some actual policy ideas, that would be welcome, because that is what we actually want to think about and write about. And we mean real policy ideas, not ridiculous stuff like Rick Scott's idea to sundown Medicare and Social Security, which has no chance of actually happening.

On another note, in the Trump interview that was watched by literally hundreds of people, he also announced that he's not interested in being Speaker of the House, should the Republicans retake the lower chamber. This is a lie. Of course he's interested in being speaker. It would give him attention and a platform, and would probably force Twitter to give him back his account. It would also affirm his control over the Republican Party. And, since he would be the first former president and the first non-member of the House to be speaker, it would be "historic." Trump loves that.

The problem with him becoming speaker is that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) did not spend years networking, and fundraising, and licking boots, and cultivating his inner invertebrate just to hand the gavel over to Trump. There is no way that he, or the other ambitious Republicans, allow the former president to be that sort of usurper. By getting out ahead of this inevitable rejection, Trump makes it look like it was his decision, and not that of the House Republican Conference. And thankfully, by virtue of his giving the Full Sherman, it won't be necessary to read a hundred pieces about "Speaker Trump" between now and November since it's a dead issue. (Z)

There's No "There" There, Part II: Debate Dodging

"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a debate." At least, we think that's the line. Anyhow, candidate debates have been a fairly standard part of American elections for the last half century or so. But maybe not anymore, as Republican candidates are avoiding them, or are making their participation contingent on so many demands that the integrity of the debates would be ruined.

It is not surprising that the Republicans, on the whole, don't want to debate. There are a number of obvious issues in play:

  • Amateur Hour: Debating is difficult, and debating well is really difficult. Unless one is an absolute natural, it requires a fair bit of experience—ideally in debating or, failing that, at least in public speaking. The Republican Party's increased reliance on "outsiders" (translation: amateurs) means that many of their most prominent candidates are ill-suited to this environment. Can you imagine Herschel Walker trying to debate, for example? Or David McCormick in Pennsylvania? Even those candidates who have a fair bit of experience with audiences, like Mehmet Oz and J.D. Vance, might not be great at this particular format.

  • De-Platformed: As we note above, the modern Republican Party has no real platform. And to the extent that they do have policy positions, they generally aren't ones that play well before a broad audience (e.g., cutting taxes on the rich). Being asked about policies, when positions on those policies don't exist, or when any particular position will aggravate half the base, is not a great scene. What does a Republican candidate do if asked, for example, about their views on Vladimir Putin? Or on whether the 2020 election was stolen?

  • Fantasyland: Also as we note above, today's Republican politicians tend to rely on alternate facts and on fantastical representations of the world that just aren't based in reality. There was no stolen election, there are no pedophile pizza parlors, there is no conspiracy to let millions of undocumented immigrants vote for president. Even when the politicians' statements are partly grounded in reality, the spin is extreme enough to create a quantum singularity. This kind of talk works better with a receptive host and audience, and not when it is subjected to critical questioning from a moderator and pushback from a debate opponent. All politicians play a bit fast and loose with the truth, of course, particularly during debates. But rarely has a party committed so fully to a political "program" that depends on preaching solely to the choir.

Anyhow, since it is generally media members who moderate debates, Republican politicians are excusing themselves with claims about "fake news" and "unfair treatment." This serves the double purpose of convincing the base that the politician "gets it," while at the same time allowing the politician to avoid the problems outlined above. And so, candidates' debates will be much rarer this year, and the whole institution may be headed the way of the dodo. (Z)

DeSantis Vetoes Florida Map

In this year's round of redistricting, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) really wants to break up the current FL-05, which is 47.3% Black, and is represented by Democrat Al Lawson, who is 100% Black. The state's Democrats, and many Republicans in the Florida legislature, say that would be an illegal racial gerrymander. So, the legislature passed a map that is very favorable to Republicans, but that keeps FL-05 basically intact. And yesterday, after signing the "Don't Say Gay" bill, DeSantis vetoed the map. He described it as "defective," and said it is the legislature that was guilty of illegal racial gerrymanders.

The Florida legislature is already adjourned for the year, as Southern states are wont to do. So, there will have to be a special session in order to take another crack at the problem. That special session will begin on April 19, and will last 4 days. If the legislature and the governor can't reach a meeting of the minds, then the courts will eventually have to step in. In fact, the courts have already been asked to step in, and are certain to be asked to step in even if a map is agreed upon. Florida's got one of the latest primary elections in the country, on August 23, so there isn't quite as much pressure as in many other states where time has all but run out.

Speaking of other states, there are four besides Florida that have not finalized their maps yet (date of the primary is in parentheses):

  1. Louisiana (November 8): Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) wants a second majority-Black district, which would give his state a 4R, 2D delegation. The Republican-controlled legislature wants to keep it at one majority-Black district, and 5R, 1D. The governor thinks they are at an impasse and, per state law, has asked the courts to step in. The legislature thinks they are not, and that they can come up with a map that will have the support of a veto-proof supermajority. They'll try to come up with something starting next week. Because of Louisiana's unusual "jungle" election system, Election Day acts as the state's de facto primary, so the Louisianans literally have as much time as is possible to figure things out.

  2. Maryland (July 19): As we noted on Monday, a Democratic judge tossed out the Democratic-created map on the basis that it violates state anti-gerrymandering laws. An appeal is pending.

  3. Missouri (August 2): The state is currently 6R, 2D, with the two Democrats representing majority-Black districts, one based in St. Louis and the other in Kansas City. Many Republicans wanted to pare that down to one majority-Black district, breaking up the one in Kansas City. However, the state Senate just worked out and approved a 6/2 map acceptable to state senators of both parties. The Democrats wanted to keep their two seats, and the Republicans wanted preferred fewer very safe seats over a larger number of less safe seats. The state House and Gov. Mike Parson (R) still have to approve the map, but are expected to do so.

  4. New Hampshire (September 13): The Republican-controlled legislature passed a map that would make one of the state's two House seats safely Democratic, and the other leaning Republican. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) prefers that both districts be competitive, even if that means the possibility of electing two Democrats. So, he vetoed the legislature's map. He also submitted his own map for the legislature's consideration. Other than Louisiana, New Hampshire has the latest primary in the country, so the Granite Staters have a fair bit of time to argue.

Note that this list does not include states where the map has been approved and implemented, but legal challenges are pending. That's pretty much all of them except for the ones that have only one congressional district.

Anyhow, the mapmaking process is nearing completion nationwide. Time will tell which state brings up the rear, but our money's on Florida. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar29 Biden's Budget...Better?
Mar29 Biden's in the Poll-drums...
Mar29 ...But Ketanji Brown Jackson Isn't
Mar29 The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part I
Mar29 The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part II
Mar29 And Cruz May Be in Trouble, Too
Mar29 About This Weekend
Mar28 Biden's Trip: A Success, but the War is Ongoing
Mar28 Biden's Sanctions Are Working
Mar28 What Would Happen If Russia Launched a Cyberwar?
Mar28 Biden Proposes New Tax on Billionaires
Mar28 Biden Defaults on Student Loan Promise
Mar28 Judge Throws Out Maryland Map
Mar28 Trump May Be Sorry He Dumped Brooks...
Mar28 ... And He May Also Be Sorry He Hasn't Dumped David Perdue
Mar28 Fortenberry Quits
Mar25 Will Jackson Get Any Republican Votes?
Mar25 Russian Military Leaders Won't Talk to Milley and Austin
Mar25 Biden Wants to Kick Russia Out of the G-20
Mar25 Biden: U.S. Will Accept 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees
Mar25 Virginia Thomas Pushed Meadows to Overturn the 2020 Election
Mar25 Prosecutor Who Left the Manhattan D.A.'s Office Says Trump Committed Felonies
Mar25 Arizona Legislature Passes Abortion Bill Copied from the Mississippi Law
Mar25 Supreme Court Delivers for Republicans in Wisconsin
Mar25 Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Is Headed from the House to the Big House
Mar24 "I Think It's Bullshit"
Mar24 Biden Is in Europe Today
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Mar24 Democrats Are Their Own Worst Enemy
Mar24 Is Tucker Carlson the New Leader of the Republican Party?
Mar24 Cawthorn and Greene Agree: Zelenskyy Is a Thug
Mar24 First Female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Has Died
Mar24 March... Sadness, Part IV (Judges and Governors, Round 2)
Mar23 The Race to the Bottom
Mar23 Braun Takes Things to Extremes
Mar23 No Profile in Courage Here
Mar23 Trump's Candidate No Mo
Mar23 Well, He Is an Actor, After All
Mar23 Hey, Trump Won One!
Mar22 And So It Begins...
Mar22 Of Course Ted Cruz Is an A**hole (Exhibit 321)
Mar22 Of Course Eric Greitens Is an A**hole (Exhibit 119)
Mar22 Trump Endorsements: Not Worth the Paper They're Written On
Mar22 "News" on the Hunter Biden Front
Mar22 March... Sadness, Part III (Executive Branch, Round 2)
Mar21 Five Questions Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Probably Be Asked
Mar21 Marie Yovanovitch Gives Her Take on Ukraine
Mar21 Cheney: Chemical Weapons Would Be a Red Line for NATO
Mar21 Chinese Ambassador Says China Is Providing Baby Formula to Russia
Mar21 Putin [sic] Dumps on the Oligarchs