The day may come that Republicans wish they'd stuck Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court, fairly well neutering him as one of the four justices in the minority. In fact, that day might be today, since Garland, in his position as Attorney General of the United States, has utterly outmaneuvered Donald Trump and his enablers. We're talking Magnus Carlsen versus Clucky, the Chess-Playing Chicken here.
When the news first broke that the FBI had searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump immediately turned it into a PR (and grift) extravaganza, casting himself as the poor, innocent victim of the evil deep state. Never mind that the bar that has to be cleared to get a no-knock warrant for a former president's residence is so sky-high that even Superman couldn't leap over it (certainly not with a single bound). What Trump and his enablers were relying upon is that the Department of Justice tends to keep its lips zipped. So, it was easy to fill that vacuum with all sorts of claims about DoJ malfeasance and incompetence, and to claim that the DoJ was making mountains out of molehills.
Quite a few Republicans leaned into this, particularly those who are running for office this year in purple states. After all, as we pointed out, most Republicans—regardless of what their public bloviating might suggest—know full well that Mar-a-Lago wouldn't have been searched unless there was serious fire behind that smoke. By focusing withering fire on Garland & Co., and an alleged lack of transparency, they were able to stay "right" with the base without overly hitching their wagon to Trump himself. And since the DoJ almost always remains quiet about ongoing cases, this noncommittal middle ground might well be occupied all the way up to Election Day, right?
Not so much, as it turns out. With Republicans shouting about transparency and demanding explanations, and with Trump—the man whose privacy is ostensibly being protected here—shouting the loudest, the DoJ said, "OK, no problem." So, it filed a request to unseal the warrant and to make it public. "The public's clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing," wrote DoJ officials in the filing. They did note that Trump should be allowed to quash the release, if he wishes. Judge Bruce Reinhart agreed, and gave the former president and his legal team until 3:00 p.m. ET today to let him know if there are any objections to the release.
And so, Trump has officially painted himself into a corner. If he objects to the release, then he's going to look as guilty as sin, and everyone—except the fanatics—will be asking "What is he hiding?" This would also leave his defenders with nothing to work with, since the problem would no longer be DoJ transparency, it would be DJT transparency. If Trump allows the release to go forward, then some very unpleasant facts will see the light of day. Remember, when Garland & Co. filed the request to unseal the warrant yesterday, they not only knew what they went looking for at Mar-a-Lago, they also knew whether or not they found it. It is very unlikely the DoJ would ask a judge to go public unless they knew they have Trump dead to rights.
Late Thursday night, using his social media platform, Trump said he would not object to the release of the warrant. We'll see if he sticks with that, since "Truth Social tweet" and "legal filing" aren't exactly the same thing. It could be that the former president and his lawyers are going to spend all day Friday trying to come up with a plausible explanation for not releasing the warrant. However, it could also be that Trump & Co. realize the truth is going to come out soon, and that it might be best for them to take their medicine now, particularly since the release will happen Friday afternoon (a.k.a. the deadest portion of the news cycle).
Indeed, there's an excellent chance that the basic truth of the situation has already come out. We already know, thanks to reporting from The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and others that Team Trump was in document-related negotiations with the DoJ up through June, and then things went sour. We also know that someone in the innerest part of Trump's inner circle tipped the feds off that the former president was hiding documents that he wasn't supposed to have. And late Thursday, courtesy of The Washington Post, we have a pretty good idea as to the contents of the purloined documents: nuclear secrets.
At this point, before we continue with our thoughts on the situation, we must caution that "inside sources" are sometimes wrong. Earlier this week, for example, the once highly respected Newsweek reported, based on "sources at the Department of Justice" that Garland did not sign off on the presidential search warrant, and that he was basically caught unaware when the FBI entered Mar-a-Lago. This turns out to be entirely incorrect; Garland made clear yesterday that he personally approved the request for the warrant.
Anyhow, here is the opening portion of the WaPo report:
Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump's Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.
The people who described some of the material that agents were seeking spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. They did not offer additional details about what type of information the agents were seeking, including whether it involved weapons belonging to the United States or some other nation. Nor did they say if such documents were recovered as part of the search. A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.
That is unambiguous. And while we warn, once again, that the Post's sources could be in error, we doubt it. Newsweek is kind of a hacky publication these days. The Post is not. And if the paper screwed this up, its reputation would be damaged beyond recognition. You can bet the Post had multiple sources for this reporting. Further, the fact that they are being coy about those sources' identities ("people familiar with the investigation") suggests that at least one of the people talking to the paper is very high up in the hierarchy, and absolutely must remain anonymous (so, no clues, even small ones, as to their rank).
If all the pieces fit together the way they appear to fit together—Trump took nuclear secrets with him, repeatedly kept them under his hat despite interactions with the DoJ and NARA, and eventually got caught red-handed—then this is obviously very, very bad. It would make Watergate look like a walk in the park.
If it really is nuclear secrets, then the only possible use Trump could have for them would be to sell them to (or otherwise use them as leverage to gain favor with) foreign powers). The obvious "business partner" here, perhaps, is Vladimir Putin and Russia. After all, Putin and Trump are buddy-buddy, and The Donald has always dreamed of building Trump Tower Moscow. However, we're not so sure that adds up, since the Russians have probably already figured out most of America's nuclear secrets, and since if this came to light, it would be dangerously close to an act of war. It would, at very least, give the U.S. cover to start sending Ukraine some really powerful stuff.
So, for our part, we wouldn't guess the Russians. To us, the more likely possibility is... the Saudis. Trump is buddy-buddy with MbS, too, as is son-in-law Jared Kushner. The Saudis also have larger gaps in their nuclear knowledge than the Russians do, and so more need. If it is indeed the Kingdom of Saud, it certainly puts that $2 billion they "invested" with Kushner in a different light. It also makes it very convenient that they just so happen to have a brand-new golf tour, and with it an excuse to write big, fat checks to the owners of golf courses. You know, people like Donald Trump, whose courses are already scheduled to hold two LIV Golf events.
That concludes the "idle speculation" portion of today's posting. The odds are pretty good that speculation will be replaced with cold, hard facts just a few hours after this post goes live. We'll certainly be waiting with bated breath. (Z)
At the moment, far-right Trump cultists—egged on by the Dear Leader—are very, very angry. They are absolutely convinced that the former president is the victim of a hit job, and they want their revenge. This week, there has been a dramatic uptick in threats against FBI offices, FBI officials, and against the judge who approved the search of Mar-a-Lago.
At least one Trump fanatic has already taken matters into his own hands. Ricky Shiffer was present at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and decided yesterday that one guy vs. the entire FBI Cincinnati field office seemed like a fair fight. It wasn't, and Mr. Shiffer no longer walks among us.
Today (see above), there's going to be more clarity about the Mar-a-Lago search. Ultimately, there are three basic outcomes that are possible:
The third of those is least likely, but the thing is that any of the three outcomes is going to infuriate the base. The first and third would just add more fuel to the "persecution" narrative and the second will trigger desperation and conspiracy theories about how the FBI planted evidence.
The only possible hedge against this is if the suit-and-tie Trump backers change their tone. The Josh Hawleys and Ron DeSantises of the world have taken a leading role in egging on the conspiracists and the white grievance crowd this week. Those two, and their ilk, know full well that their words may well lead to violence and they don't give a damn. All they care about is their own political fortunes, and their would-be 2024 presidential bids. If they think that remaining on board the S.S. Tump Was Screwed serves their needs, they'll stay on board (probably in a state room, away from the steerage passengers).
It is at least possible, however, that if Trump looks guilty of serious crimes, he could become (almost literally) radioactive. DeSantis, Hawley, et al. would love nothing more than to be able to cut Trump loose since he is, after all, their rival. This could give them cover to jump ship. Unfortunately, politicians are cautious by nature. Further, these would-be presidents are all clever enough to remember what happened after January 6, when a bunch of Republicans spoke out against Trump and then came to regret their words when he (once again) bounced back. So, our guess is that no matter what happens today, the leading Republican bomb-throwers will continue their war of words against the FBI and the law enforcement establishment. And so, there will be more Ricky Shiffers. And the blood of those folks will be, in part, on the hands of the suit-and-tie crowd. (Z)
The good people of Hawaii march to the beat of their own pahu. Or maybe they're just more sensible than the rest of us. Whatever the case may be, they're voting tomorrow, as opposed to trying to rush to the polling places before/after work on a Tuesday.
Thus far, about a quarter of a million ballots have been submitted via mail or dropbox. This figure is below expectations, and it's not clear whether there will be a surge today and tomorrow or not. Since Hawaii is a deep-blue state, there isn't all that much in the way of competition, and voters may be inclined to take a pass on this one.
Foremost on the "no competition" front are the seats of Sen. Brian Schatz (D) and Rep. Ed Case (D). Neither has drawn a serious opponent, on either side of the aisle. They will both be reelected easily in November.
Slightly more interesting is the state's gubernatorial race. Gov. David Ige (D) is both term-limited and unpopular, and so seven contenders threw their hats into the ring in hopes of replacing him. The most notable are Vicky Cayetano, who was once the First Lady of Hawaii; Rep. Kai Kahele (D), who gave up his safe seat in the House to take a shot at the governor's mansion; and Lt. Gov. Josh Green (D), who has continued his work as a trauma physician while serving in political office. The reason this race is only slightly interesting is that Green is absolutely trouncing all comers in the polls. The latest had him with 55% of the vote, trailed by Cayetano at 19% and Kahele at 16%. This is in line with the other dozen or so polls of the race. So, Green will win his party's nomination, and then will go on to crush some poor Republican, probably former lieutenant governor Duke Aiona, in the general.
That leaves the race for Hawaii's other congressional seat, the one that is being vacated by Kahele, as the only competitive contest on the ballot. Jill Tokuda (D) is an entrepreneur and a former state senator, Patrick Pihana Branco (D) is a current state representative, though this is his first term in office. Polling of the race has been limited; the most recent was back in June. The good news for Tokuda is that she had a big lead over Branco in that one—25 points, in fact. The bad news is that she was up 31% to 6%, meaning that 63% of voters were undecided. So, although Tokuda is a prohibitive favorite, it's entirely plausible that Branco could win. Whoever it is will, along with Schatz, Case, and Green, crush their Republican opponent in the general.
There you have it. We're a full service site, so we try to make sure to write up the primaries in all 50 states and D.C. However, we can't guarantee that they'll all be fascinating, particularly in states (and Districts of Columbia) with one-party rule. (Z)
Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the IRS is set to receive billions of dollars in additional funding over the next 10 years. Maybe even enough that the Austin office can have its cafeteria back.
The bill hasn't passed the House yet, much less been signed into law, but those things are regarded as inevitable. So, on Thursday, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen issued instructions to the IRS telling the agency how to spend the money. Her orders: Only audit taxpayers earning $400,000 or more. Or, in fancy bureaucrat-speak, the IRS is to "focus on high-end noncompliance."
This is, we assume, good policy. You're far more likely to get more money out of someone making $10 million than someone making $50,000. And it is definitely good politics. Republicans who are unhappy about the Inflation Reduction Act have declared that the bill is going to result in much higher tax bills for the middle class. Yellen made her views on this very clear in yesterday's directive:
Specifically, I direct that any additional resources—including any new personnel or auditors that are hired—shall not be used to increase the share of small business or households below the $400,000 threshold that are audited relative to historical levels. This means that, contrary to the misinformation from opponents of this legislation, small business or households earning $400,000 per year or less will not see an increase in the chances that they are audited.
This will not stop dishonest politicians (ahem, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX) from continuing to claim that the middle class is on the chopping block. However, it will make things harder for any politician or media outlet who has any concern for the truth. It also gives Democrats a ready-made response when and if this issue comes up in debates, press conferences, etc. (Z)
Nevada's a tricky state for the Democrats this year. First of all, it's fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Second, its economy is based primarily on tourism. That means that when gas prices soar, or when people tighten their belts in anticipation of a recession, or when food prices go up, Nevada is particularly hard-hit.
All of this has union leadership in the Silver State very nervous. They don't see good things in the future if Republicans take over most or all political offices. However, they also know that when things get bad, voters tend to adopt a "throw the bums out" mentality. If so, that could cost the Democrats a U.S. Senate seat (the one Catherine Cortez Masto is running for reelection to) and up to three House seats (the ones that Dina Titus, Susie Lee, and Steven Horsford are trying to hold on to).
To that end, the largest union in Nevada—the Culinary Union—is taking action. It is subsidizing 100 union members so that they can take leave from their regular jobs and can spend the next several months canvassing. Their primary tasks are to: (1) make the case that inflation is not the Democrats' fault, and (2) brag about the Inflation Reduction Act. They've knocked on 50,000 doors so far and hope to run that total to 100,000 by the end of August. They are particularly targeting Latino voters, who are the fastest-growing demographic in the state.
We do not know how much this will help, but it will certainly help some. And if the Democrats do lose the House this cycle, it won't be for lack of ground game in Nevada (and Georgia, and North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, etc.) (Z)
Donald Trump, as you may have heard, could be in some hot water related to his handling of classified documents. If it turns out that he really was trying to sell nuclear secrets (see above), that could technically be a capital offense. You could ask Julius and Ethel Rosenberg about that if they had not, you know, been executed. Considerably more likely, however, is that Trump would be charged under the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, which establishes a penalty of up to 5 years in prison for each count of handling classified information.
For a very long time, the penalty was only 1 year. However, there was an election cycle a few years back where the winning presidential candidate spent much time complaining about the alleged mishandling of classified information by the losing presidential candidate. Nothing ever emerged that would have allowed that losing candidate to be charged with a crime. But just in case, the winning candidate and his party rammed through the FISA bill, quintupling the length of the maximum penalty.
That losing candidate, of course, was Hillary Clinton. And the winning candidate who signed the harsher penalty into law was one Donald J. Trump. We trust that the irony, and the schadenfreude, here are self-evident. (Z)
This year, 34 of America's 100 largest cities will hold mayoral elections. And the dominant issue in many of those elections will be homelessness. This is particularly true in the largest city that will be electing a mayor this year, namely Los Angeles. Republican... er, "Democrat" Rick Caruso has made it the focal point of his campaign, vaguely promising to "clean up" the homeless problem without saying exactly how he will do so.
In view of this, we thought it might be useful to see if any large cities have had actual success in tackling this issue. And it turns out that there is one city that is head and shoulders above the rest. It's not the city we would have guessed, since it's located in a state that's not exactly known for good governance. But sometimes city officials get very good at ignoring the politicians higher up on the ladder, and that is what appears to have happened here. So, we present you with America's model city when it comes to coping with homelessness: Houston, Texas.
Houston has been working very hard on this problem for over a decade and, from the outset, the city's leaders had a crazy idea. What if, instead of designing policy around "what sounds good to voters," they instead allowed themselves to be guided by expert research, and to develop an evidence-based approach? In most cities, homeless people who want help have to "earn" housing. This can involve mandatory addiction counseling or compulsory church attendance or a stay in a homeless shelter, among other possibilities. The Houston approach, by contrast, puts housing first. The city tries very hard to get people into one-bedroom apartments, and then works with them on addiction or job skills or whatever other underlying issues might need to be addressed. The metaphor that Houston officials are fond of using: If someone is drowning, that is not the time to try to teach them to swim. Save them first, teach them later.
A city like Los Angeles has a much larger homeless population, and so would require the investment of even more extensive resources, but experts say that there is no reason that the Houston approach can't be scalable. And the city has had remarkable success. Chronic homelessness has been reduced by 63%, and more than 25,000 people have gotten off the street permanently. Here's hoping other cities are paying attention.
On another note, as you can see above, the readers chose "This Week in Freudenfreude" as the title for this feature. A few folks wrote in and suggested that we should have used ranked-choice voting. That would have been interesting, and we'll think about it in the future. In this case, it certainly wouldn't have mattered, as "This Week in Freudenfreude" won in a rout, getting votes from over 50% of respondents. Here's the entire Top 10, if it holds your interest:
Each of these got at least 200 votes, but "Freudenfreude" got well over 1,000.
There were a number of readers who suggested "Freudenfreude," and we'd like to thank all of them:
We think this list is comprehensive, but if you sent in "Freudenfreude" and we missed you, please do let us know.
Have a great weekend, everyone. (Z)