Donald Trump has often said that nobody invokes the Fifth Amendment unless they are guilty. Guess what? Yesterday, Trump obeyed a subpoena and showed up to listen to questions from prosecutors who work in the New York State attorney general's office. And he responded to all the questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to answer them. Legally, that is fine and is probably what his counsel advised him to do. Of course, at a future trial, the prosecution could: (1) quote at length the many times Trump has said only guilty people plead the Fifth and (2) then read the transcript of yesterday's deposition with Trump pleading it to every question. In civil cases, like this one, jurors are told that they can take a refusal to answer questions into consideration when coming to a verdict. In criminal cases, that is not allowed.
For once, Trump is listening to his lawyers rather than to his gut. The lawyers can't see any value in Trump's cooperating with NY AG Letitia James' investigation, so why help her? Trump often thinks he is the smartest lawyer in the room and could have tried to outwit the questioners. But this time the lawyers got to him and he clammed up.
Trump was prepared for the charges of hypocrisy that are now erupting everywhere. After the deposition, he issued a statement: "When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice." That is, of course, complete nonsense. If you are not guilty you can answer all the questions truthfully. For example, if a prosecutor asks: "Did you inflate your property values when talking to banks and deflate them when talking to tax collectors?" and he didn't, he could answer: "Absolutely not." But if he did do so, saying that would be perjury, so better to say: "I plead the Fifth Amendment."
Will Trump's refusal to answer any questions now stymie James? Probably not. She knew that Donald Jr. invoked the Fifth Amendment 500 times during his deposition and had to assume Senior would do the same. However, for the crimes he is likely to be charged with—bank fraud and tax fraud—there is a paper trail of his property valuations and that might be enough to convince a jury.
There is a good chance that James is pretty much finished with her investigation now and might bring charges fairly soon. This could mean that Trump will have to fight a civil case in New York, a criminal case in Georgia, and possibly one or more criminal cases in D.C., one about violating federal records laws and one about trying to steal an election. How will his supporters react? The dyed-in-the-wool ones will echo his story that it is all a witch hunt, although technically witches are female so he should say this is a wizard hunt or a warlock hunt. That aside, some of the people who voted for Trump in 2020 don't really like him. They just like the Democrats even less. But there could come a point when 5-10% of his supporters switch teams. You don't win elections with 40% of the vote. And a lot depends on the timing of the various indictments and trials. If he can get them postponed until 2025—and remember, he's a master at running out the clock—they won't damage him much. (V)
Renato Mariotti, a former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois (where he prosecuted white collar crime), has written a piece for Politico giving his take on the raid at Mar-a-Lago Monday. He wrote that to convince a federal judge to issue a search warrant, the Dept. of Justice had to make a case that there is evidence of a crime at Mar-a-Lago right now. Not last April. This very likely means that somebody close to Trump came forward very recently with information about evidence that was in Trump's safe or at least somewhere in the house. The person could be anyone who had access to the house, even a maid who saw something stamped "top secret" lying on Trump's desk. Mariotti didn't want to speculate on what kind of evidence the feds were looking for or even what law they thought had been broken.
The feds then acted immediately on this new evidence by asking for a search warrant. The search warrant would explain what they were looking for, why they thought it was there, and how it was connected to some crime. This degree of specificity would explain why Trump refuses to make the search warrant public. If it convinced a judge, it might convince a lot of voters as well.
Mariotti also said that if he were defending a client whose house has just been searched, he would tell the client that he is probably going to be charged. The charge could be mishandling of documents, but he noted that charges are rarely brought for that. He thinks this is about something bigger.
Mariotti also wrote that during a search, the officers could have interviewed anyone in the house or outside it. That would be quite common, actually.
A key takeaway from the article is this sentence: "One thing that should not be in doubt in any longer, however, is Attorney General Merrick Garland's willingness to go after the former president." Again, this is not some random congressman shooting off his mouth. It is an experienced former federal prosecutor who knows exactly how the system works.
Trump apparently also senses that the search warrant was not based on old information, but probably some new tip the feds just got. He was always a bit paranoid but now is actively worried that someone close to him is wearing a wire (recording device) to collect evidence for the government. In other words, there could be a rat or snitch or mole who is trying to save his own neck by helping the prosecutors. During the 2016 campaign, Trump (baselessly) thought his phone was tapped. Now he thinks that again, and this time it is possible that the federal judge who issued the search warrant could have issued an order allowing the FBI to tap his phone as well. The result of all the investigations is that Trump doesn't know who he can trust now, if anyone, and his paranoia is growing.
The people close to Trump are starting to exploit this. If person A doesn't like person B, person A could tell Trump that he thinks person B is the rat. This could make Trump not trust person B anymore. If enough people play this game for their own reasons, Trump might end up trusting only Ivanka, who seems to be trying to stay far away from him now to avoid getting ensnared in the investigations.
Niall Stanage is not a former prosecutor, just a political columnist for The Hill, but his take on the politics of the raid is also interesting. His main takeaways are:
But as we know, things can move fast in politics. Since no one outside a small group of people at the DoJ know why the raid was approved, right now there is a lot of guesswork. But if Mariotti is right, where's there's smoke, there's fire. That will likely become apparent before too long. (V)
In politics, as we might have mentioned once or twice, a week is a long time. Not that long ago, Republicans were quietly telling Donald Trump to hold off announcing his 2024 run until after the midterms to avoid enraging Democrats and making 2022 all about him. Now, after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Republicans are not-so-quietly urging Trump to jump in now. What a difference even a day makes.
For example, long-time Trump confidant Michael Caputo said: "My advice that we should wait until after the midterms was based upon a rather standard landscape. [The Justice Department] set off a nuclear bomb on that landscape yesterday. This is no longer a business-as-usual." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke to Trump twice after the raid. He said before the raid he was convinced Trump would run and now his belief is even stronger.
Three anonymous sources told CNN that before the raid, Trump's advisers were worried that Trump would steal the spotlight to the Republicans' disadvantage. Advisers who believe that are now in the minority. Also, if Trump announces, he won't be able to control the $121 million in his main super PAC, but that concern is now viewed as less important than it was. After all, he could appoint some trusted flunky to run it and to take Trump's "hints" (possibly via a go-between) as orders.
However, one person close to Trump sees it differently. He noted that where others see criminal jeopardy, Trump sees dollar signs. In other words, it's the grift. It's always the grift.
Most of the downsides of announcing now for Trump (as opposed to the Republican Party), are financial or regulatory. The upside is raising a lot more money and possibly scaring off Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
Once Trump announced the raid, his phone didn't stop ringing. He has being talking to advisers nonstop ever since. They were all urging him to announce sooner rather than later. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) even tweeted that Republicans have a moral duty to fight back. Banks also said that his sense is that Trump is fired up and rarin' to go.
House Republicans were savoring their midterm victory months before it might happen. They were already sending letters to AG Merrick Garland to preserve all his documents. Garland knows very well what he must preserve and doesn't need hotheads in Congress to tell him. But folks like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) know that if they were in Garland's shoes, the paper shredder would be running 24/7 and they assume Garland would come to the same conclusion they would—destroy all evidence. What Jordan apparently doesn't understand is that whatever the Dept. of Justice showed the judge to get the search warrant is likely to be extremely incriminating and Trump would actually be better off if Garland did shred it. But, of course, he won't.
If the Republicans take the House and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becomes speaker, he will have to decide whether to create a select committee to investigate the FBI or let one of the standing committees do the dirty work. The advantage of a new select committee is that it could be packed with people like Reps. Jordan, Banks, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and other legal heavyweights. Jordan, at least, has a law degree (from Capital University), but he never took the bar exam. The downside of a select committee packed with clowns is that the hearings could turn into a complete circus and really turn off independents, especially when Democrats compared it to how the current select committee operates, with lots of taped testimony from Republican insiders and no grandstanding at all.
Some of the advisers are actually hoping Trump is indicted. Victimhood and grievances play a huge role in Republican politics these days and an indictment would "prove" that Trump was a victim of the deep state. Then the money would really roll in. It's our guess that if 2024 features Trump vs. Biden again, money won't matter so much. By now everyone has a pretty could idea of what both of them are like and a billion dollars in ads won't change much.
Pretty much the only top Republican urging Trump to pump the brakes and not announce until after the midterms is RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. On Tuesday she told Fox: "You don't talk about the Super Bowl until you win the playoffs." She knows very well that having Trump be the face of the Republican Party this November could result in the GOP losing many winnable Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. She really doesn't want that. (V)
Democrats have a lot to run on in November. They can talk about four major bills they passed, and also how they would like to protect abortion rights nationally. Since the Republicans don't have anything they are for, all they can do is run on what they are against. The biggest specific item on that list is inflation. Thus, the state and direction of inflation on Nov. 8 could be crucial, which means that subject is going to be front and center for the next 3 months.
The July numbers are now in and there is no increase in prices since June. Inflation over the past year is now 8.5% (it was over 9% last month). Specifically, gas prices are way down even though food and shelter prices are up. Gas prices are psychologically crucial since when people buy a full tank of gas, they can easily compare it to last time they did that. Buying a week's worth of food is not as clear an indicator because shifts up or down could be due to buying a different mix of groceries each week. And rent for most people typically doesn't change from week to week or month to month, so national averages don't mean anything to most people. Airfares and the price for used cars are also down, but again, almost no one has a basis for comparison.
The Fed's action is most visible to people in the process of buying a house. If they got a quote from a bank on a mortgage last month and now a new one, the new one will be higher and those people will scream that inflation is rampant. But actually, the increase mortgage rate is a sign of the Fed's attempt to slow inflation, not the inflation itself. It's like being sick and running a fever. The fever isn't caused by the bacteria or virus. It is caused by the body's attempt to cook the bacteria or virus. But not everyone understands this. In actuality, a lot is riding on the public's perception of inflation, rather than the inflation itself. (V)
As we have mentioned before, Trump's favorite activities are fleecing the rubes and getting revenge on his enemies. Both are in evidence right now. Money is flowing in as a result of Trump's protestation about the raid on Mar-a-Lago and the fate of all the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him is pretty well known. Here is the scorecard so far.
|Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)||Lost her primary|
|Liz Cheney (R-WY)||Primary is next week|
|Anthony Gonzales (R-OH)||Retiring|
|John Katko (R-NY)||Retiring|
|Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)||Retiring|
|Peter Meijer (R-MI)||Lost his primary|
|Dan Newhouse (R-WA)||Won his primary|
|Tom Rice (R-SC)||Lost his primary|
|Fred Upton (R-MI)||Retiring|
|David Valadao (R-CA)||Won his primary|
Seven of Trump's targets have already been driven out of the House or were beaten in primaries. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is likely to lose her primary next week. So depending on what happens in Wyoming, Trump will be batting either .700 or .800. And David Valadao is in danger in the general, so the former president could well get to .900. In baseball, nobody has ever hit above .450 for a season, with the record being the .440 Hugh Duffy put up for the Boston Beaneaters back in 1894.
The message here couldn't be clearer: If you are a Republican and oppose Trump, that is very likely the end of your career. What the Republicans have not discovered is the power of a union. If (nearly) all of the House Republicans had banded together and voted to impeach him, he wouldn't have been able to do anything. But because only a handful did, he could pick them off. (V)
In a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, Joe Biden's approval rating, which had been in the 30s, is now up to 40% and his disapproval rating is down to 55%. That is still not great, but it is moving in the right direction for him. The increase is mostly due to more Democrats approving of him. It is now 78%, up from 69% last month, Only 12% of Republicans approve of Biden's performance.
The gain in approval is undoubted related to the positive publicity accompanying legislative successes, such as the CHIPS Act, which will help bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S. from China, and the Honoring Our PACT Act, which will expand health benefits for veterans exposed to toxins in the line of duty. In addition, Biden also got good PR from killing the leader of al-Qaeda
The poll also showed that the economy is the top issue for voters. For most people, "the economy" means two things: inflation and jobs. People are unhappy with inflation and that could hurt the Democrats, but they are doing just fine on jobs. The trouble is that for people with a job they like, the fact that they could find a new job if they wanted to doesn't matter as much as prices for groceries going up. Still, Democrats can, and probably will, point out that 9 million new jobs have been created on Biden's watch. (V)
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) is an odd duck as Democratic Senate candidates go, and is attracting a lot of attention as a result. Politico ran a long profile of him on Tuesday. Political junkies all know about the "full Grassley," the fabled campaigns of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) where he visits all of Iowa's 99 counties. Well, welcome to the "full Fetterman" (which has better aliteration than the Iowa variant). It is like a double Grassley. Not only did Fetterman visit every one of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, he visited each one twice during his primary campaign. And what really turned heads is that he won every single one of them against a much more conservative opponent (Rep. Conor Lamb, D-PA). He even won tiny and very rural Cameron County (pop. 4,285), Sullivan County (pop. 6,036), and Forest County (pop. 7,136). No Democrat in his right mind would go to deep red rural counties where hardly anyone lives. But Fetterman did it not just once, but twice, and carried all of them. Some pundits are now scratching their heads and thinking: "Is this guy onto something?"
Fetterman's slogan is: "Every County, Every Vote." Often he doesn't stay long. One day he visited five rural counties. But the message he is sending, even from a short visit, is: "I know about you. You matter to me."
Most Democratic consultants see this as nuts. Every minute a candidate spends driving between far flung houses to knock on doors in rural areas is a minute he could have spent talking to voters cram-packed in Philadephia or Pittsburgh or even in a suburb. The trouble is that such a strategy tells the rural voters that Democrat think they don't matter, so they vote Republican. Long ago, it was normal for Democrats to campaign in rural areas, but now consultants have maps with number of voters per square foot and tell candidates to stick to the high-density areas because they can meet more voters per minute that way.
What they may be missing, though, is that a visit to farm in a rural area could have more impact than on just the farmer's family. The farmer is very likely to announce at church the next Sunday that he personally met the candidate and told him what he thinks is important and the candidate jotted it down. The other churchgoers might tell their family and friends. Word could spread that the candidate took the trouble to visit them and listen to them.
Of course, beating a conservative Democrat in every county is not the same as beating a conservative Republican in every county. November will be the real test.
Other Democrats have taken notice that Fetterman's strategy, though. Democrat Chris Jones is running for Arkansas governor against Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) and is also planning to campaigning in every county. Beto O'Rourke is going to campaign for governor of Texas in rural areas. Woody Allen once said: "90% of success in life is just showing up." Maybe he had a point, even if he sometimes behaved badly when he showed up. (V)
Usually the heads of the congressional campaign committees—the DSCC, DCCC, NRSC, and NRCC—are upbeat, talking about how they are going to win and win big. This keeps morale up and encourages people to donate. Saying: "Things look pretty tough for us" is not welcome. Therefore it is very surprising that Rick Scott, chairman of the NRSC, recently said: "it's going to be a hard year." That's politician-speak for "I'm afraid we are going to lose."
Scott's boo-boo caused the communications director at the NRSC, Chris Hartline, to try to walk it back, saying: "I think that what the chairman said yesterday is not that it's going to be hard for us to take back the Senate but that the races are tough races, which they were always going to be." That's politician-speak for "Donald Trump has saddled us up with candidates who can't win," and is only marginally better than what Scott said.
Scott is mindful of the expectations game. He knows that if Republicans expect to get 55 seats in the Senate and get 49, they will see him as a failure, but if they think getting 50 or 51 would be a stretch, then getting only 49 will be seen as sort of expected. Public opinion matters a lot to Scott because he wants to be president and being branded as a big-time loser is not going to help in the 2024 primary, if he runs.
Scott isn't the only one whining in public. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has acknowledged that the Democrats could keep control of the Senate. He also said the margin, either way, was likely to be close. That's very different from saying: "We are going to have a 2-3 seat majority." McConnell is no doubt breathing a sign of relief because Republicans avoided disaster in at least two states. Mo Brooks could have been nominated in Alabama and Eric Greitens could have been nominated in Missouri. Neither was, and those states are now safe.
Other voices are also not positive on all races. Longtime Republican pollster Whit Ayers recently said: "Herschel Walker does not look like he's ready for primetime." That's pollster-speak for: "He's going to be wiped out, possibly by double digits."
If Democrats increase their margin in the Senate in November, the blame game will start instantly. Many Republicans will be sorely tempted to put the blame on Trump for backing such poor candidates. Whether they will say this in public is one thing, but many of them are likely to quietly leak their feelings to reporters on background. (V)
Polling is one way to predict elections, but it is not the only one. Another one is betting sites. If the betting odds greatly favor one candidate over another in a race, that is also an important data point because unlike polling, where people can lie, in betting markets, people are risking their own money on a bet. One of the more popular betting sites is PredictIt. Here is the current state of play for 9 top bets.
The way this works is as follows. As an example, if you think the Democrats will control the Senate in January, you can buy a share for 59¢. If you think the Republicans will, you can buy a share for 42¢. If you guess right either way, you win a dollar. If you guess wrong, you lose your money. The price of a share can be roughly viewed as the probability that the event is going to happen. In addition to holding your shares until the event happens, you can buy and sell at any time, so you can make (or lose) money on short-term price changes. A price of 99¢ means virtually everyone thinks the event is going to happen and a price of 1¢ means almost nobody thinks it will happen. If you buy a share at 1¢ and you guessed right and everyone else guessed wrong, your winnings will be 100x your bet.
Here are some other possible bets:
Looks like a fun place to watch, right? We think so, but the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, whose job is ride herd on futures markets, doesn't. In fact the CFTC takes such a dim view of PredictIt that is forcing the 8-year-old site to shut down in February 2023 because it did not comply with market rules. The CFTC didn't elaborate on which rules PredictIt broke.
PredictIt was launched by Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, as an instrument for doing academic research on political markets. Betting on politics is illegal in the U.S. unless the betting site has a so-called "no action" letter saying no action will be taken against it. Usually very small scale experiments are tolerated, but when a lot of money is being wagered, the CFTC tends to perk up its ears and take notice.
Another U.S. site that allows election bets is the Iowa Election Markets. There you can also bet on which party will control the Senate or House and similar things. So far, the CFTC hasn't threatened to shut it down.
There are also overseas markets that allow bets on U.S. politics. If you are outside the U.S., you can go to PaddyPower.com to place bets on U.S. elections. If you are inside the U.S., you can set a VPN to an Irish server to look. Just don't touch. PaddyPower works with odds, not prices. The current odds of a Republican winning the 2024 presidential election are 8/13 (62%) and the odds of a Democrat winning are 5/4 (44%). Many other races are available.
A British betting site that takes wagers on U.S. and British politics is William Hill. It has the odds of Liz Truss being the next prime minister of the U.K at 1/10 (91%) and of Rishi Sunak at 7/1 (13%). These numbers don't add to 100% due to the vigorish (the bookie's take). (V)